The Thin Red Line: Non-Market Socialism in the Twentieth Century - John Crump (1987)

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Non-Market Socialism in the Twentieth Century

From a socialist standpoint, what is the most crucial difference between the nineteenth century and the twentieth century?

Although one could point to numerous differences which are significant for socialists, surely the most crucial difference of all is that in the nineteenth century there were no states which claimed to be socialist. Despite the well-known distinction which Marx, Engels and others made between 'scientific socialism' and 'utopian socialism', even nineteenth-century 'scientific socialism' was utopian in the etymological sense of referring to nowhere - to no existing state. By way of contrast, for most of the twentieth century, states have existed which have been popularly regarded as 'socialist' or 'communist'. The effect of this popular identification of 'socialism' with certain states has been disastrous. Millions of wage-earners have drawn the conclusion that socialism has been tried in the twentieth century and found to fail. Even many stern critics of the 'socialist states' have been reduced to describing such countries as examples of 'actually existing socialism'1. Capitalism has been given a new lease of life because, compared with the brutality of state capitalist regimes or the cynicism of Social Democratic administrations, government by even avowedly capitalist parties has seemed preferable to many.


During the twentieth century, 'socialism' has come to mean for most people either Social Democracy or Leninism. Social Democracy has been strongest in the countries of Western and Northern Europe, where Social Democratic Parties have held power for varying lengths of time. Most Social Democratic governments have practised a policy of selective nationalisation, bringing key (and often problem-ridden) industries under state control. Implicit in such a policy has been both the preservation of the state, which is obviously strengthened as sectors of the economy are brought under its control, and the preservation of capitalism. Social Democracy has had the effect of preserving capitalism because the Social Democratic 'mixed economy' is a mixture of private capitalism and state capitalism. Private companies in the 'mixed economy' remain profit-making enterprises. Part of their profits is reinvested in production, while the residue is partly consumed by capitalists who own shares in the companies and partly acquired by the state in the form of taxes. The nationalised sectors of the 'mixed economy' conform to this pattern of profit distribution no less than private companies. State enterprises are intended to make profits, although lack of commercial viability has often been a reason for declining industries being nationalised. Where profits are realised by nationalised concerns, there is the same three-way division of the profits as in private industry, between the reinvestment fund, the state, and capitalists who own shares or bonds.

Throughout the 'mixed economy', in private and nationalised concerns alike, goods and services are produced for sale on the market. Production is geared to market requirements rather than to human needs, and distribution of goods and services is handled by buying and selling operations, achieved by the use of money. Similarly, throughout the 'mixed economy', production is undertaken by working men and women who sell their labour power for wages (or salaries). Whether the 'mixed economy' is considered from the viewpoint of consumers, whose level of consumption is determined by the money at their disposal, or from the viewpoint of wage-earners, who must sell their labour power to an enterprise which is prepared to employ them, the differences between the private capitalist and state capitalist sectors of the economy are insignificant.2

At its most well-meaning, Social Democracy has represented an attempt to humanise and reform capitalism by means of state intervention. One reason why Social Democrats have failed in their attempts to transform capitalism into a humane system is that invariably they have attempted to carry out their reforms within the narrow confines of a single nation- state, which has necessarily remained an integral part of the world market. In the end, the world market has had a more decisive influence on the production of wealth and the intensity of labour than the however-well-intentioned reforms legislated by Social Democrats. Social Democrats inevitably have been driven to administer capitalism in the only way it can be administered - against the interests of the wage-earning majority. Social Democracy has suffered this fate of continuing to oppress wage-earners not because of the failure of its leaders, because they lacked will and nerve, but because of the very nature of capitalism. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that once most Social Democrats have tasted state power, and have found themselves responding to the dictates of the world market, so their good intentions have rapidly been eroded by political cynicism. The record of Social Democracy in the twentieth century has not only been one of submission to capitalism, but also one of support for wars, apology for privilege and compromise with the spurious democracy of parliamentarism. The result of advocating a 'mixed economy' is that the achievement of 'socialism' has been endlessly postponed. The Social Democrats' 'socialism' continually has receded into the future, in a similar fashion, as we shall see, to the 'communism' of the Leninists.

In contrast to Social Democracy, most of the countries where Leninist Parties have taken power have been located in Eastern Europe and East Asia. The different geographical locations of Social Democracy and Leninism reflect the fact that these two political movements have developed in response to the needs of countries at different stages of economic development. Whereas Social Democracy has made little headway in other than advanced countries, Leninism has largely been confined to backward countries. Except in the case of certain East European countries, where the imposition of the Leninist political model has resulted from the extension of Russian military influence, Leninist Parties have generally captured power against a backcloth of revolutionary upheaval arising from the failure of the pre-revolutionary regimes to achieve sustained economic growth and industrialisation.

Following the revolutionary seizure of power, Leninism proceeds with an attempt to achieve forced economic development by means of restricting workers' and peasants' consumption in the interest of rapid capital accumulation. Under these circumstances, in Leninist vocabulary, 'socialism' means a policy of generalised nationalisation (at least within the industrial sectors of the economy) and a vast increase in wage labour, since newly created enterprises require fresh drafts of wage-earners to operate them. The strengthening of the state by virtue of its role as the general employer, and the extension of wage labour, clearly contradict the nineteenth-century socialist prescriptions that the state should wither away and that the wages system should be abolished. Leninism has 'solved' this problem ideologically by relegating the withering away of the state and the abolition of wages to a continually receding 'communist' future. Meanwhile, the term 'socialism' is retained as a descriptive label for a situation where the state has unparalleled power and where workers have no alternative but to work for wages in order to gain the means of life. In other words, Leninism uses a 'socialist' label to hide the real nature of an economy which differs from private capitalism only in the fact that the state has replaced the privately owning capitalist class as the owner of the means of production. Since the countries where Leninist Parties hold power exhibit all the key features of capitalism (production for profit, monetary distribution, wage labour, accumulation of capital) and are forced to attune their production in line with international competition as it registers on the world market, they are best understood as state capitalist countries. 3

If state capitalism expresses the economic reality of Leninism, politically the hallmark of Leninism is the extreme concentration of power. No political formation is tolerated outside the umbrella of the ruling triumvirate, made up of the party, the state and the armed forces. The vanguard party operates in the name of the working class but in fact looks after the interests of the de facto state capitalist class, which is composed of the upper echelons of the party, state and military hierarchies. Nationalism and militarism are other important ingredients in the political cocktail of Leninism, and the prominent role which they play reflects the economic backwardness of most countries where Leninist Parties have taken power. In the cut-throat world of capitalist competition, economic backwardness is generally accompanied by subordination to imperialism, so that revolutions aimed at developing a backward country on a state capitalist basis are also expressions of national independence. Hence, flying in the face of. the socialist common sense of the nineteenth century that 'the working men have no country',4 Leninist Parties that have come to power have attempted to hitch the working class to the chariot of military defence of national interests.

For the reasons outlined above, our contention is that Social Democracy and Leninism are bankrupt insofar as the interests of the wage-earning working class are concerned. Anyone who has preserved the critical consciousness of nineteenth century non-market socialism can see that, in the twentieth century, Social Democracy and Leninism have bolstered, rather than subverted, capitalism. The bankruptcy of Social Democracy and Leninism should be particularly clear in the light of the present economic crisis. The crisis has arisen because the chaotic nature of capitalism has led to capital's inability to realise sufficient profit in production, and hence to a contracting world market. It has been a worldwide crisis, affecting private capitalist, 'mixed economy' and state capitalist countries alike. Social Democracy and Leninism have been unable to offer any credible solutions to the crisis (and are unable to solve the hardships which capitalism imposes on wage-earners even outside of crisis situations) because the alternatives to private capitalism which they represent are no more than alternative methods of organising capitalism. They have no alternative to production for the world market, even though it is the world market which has produced the crisis.


To find a coherent set of ideas which are subversive of capitalism, and which do offer an alternative to production for the world market, one must turn to the 'thin red line' represented by the five currents which are examined in the following chapters. In roughly chronological order of appearance, these five currents are: anarcho-communism; impossibilism; council communism; Bordigism; situationism. A thorough consideration of each current will be left until the relevant chapter, but there are brief profiles of these currents in the Introduction for the benefit of readers who may be unfamiliar with them.

Even a perfunctory acquaintance with the five currents which jointly represent the 'thin red line' of non-market socialism in the twentieth century leads to the realisation that their importance does not lie in the number of their adherents, or in their influence on the course of world history. Although some of these currents have enjoyed moments of transitory glory/notoriety, throughout most of the twentieth century it has been possible to discount them in terms of the support which they have attracted and their impact on the world. The question therefore arises: if the significance of the non-market socialists does not lie in their numbers and influence, where does it lie? The answer is that non-market socialism is significant because its various currents represent successful attempts by groups of working men and women to formulate a fundamental critique of capitalism and simultaneously to pose a genuinely socialist alternative. Considered in isolation, it is easy to dismiss anyone of the five currents as too small and too uninfluential to be important. Taken together, however, they represent a sustained response on the part of wage labour to capitalist exploitation and irrationality. Irrespective of the limited numbers of wage-earners involved, non-market socialism should be seen as an authentic response to capitalism by wage labour because, as the existence of the various non-market socialist currents demonstrates, groups of wage-earners have repeatedly, and largely independently of one another, formulated the same critique of capitalism and the same alternative of socialism. The fact that this has occurred at different historical junctures, and in different geographical and cultural contexts, gives weight to the claim that, as long as world capitalism persists, groups of wage-earning men and women are certain to emerge who will challenge capital's priority of production for the market and call on their fellow-workers to take joint action in order to establish the human community of socialism.

It is important to emphasise the scale of the claim which is being made here with regard to non-market socialism. It is not being suggested that non-market socialism is another socialist tradition which should be placed alongside Social Democracy and Leninism, and seen as a rival to them. The claim is considerably more audacious than that. What is being argued is that, collectively, anarcho-communism, impossibilism, council communism, Bordigism and situationism are socialism in the twentieth century. Outside these currents, socialism has not existed, since what conventionally are considered to be the great victories of 'socialism' in the twentieth century have been nothing more than extensions of state capitalism at the expense of private capitalism. Social Democracy and Leninism have made priceless contributions to world capitalism by deflecting working-class criticism away from the key elements of capitalism as a mode of production to the contingent, and increasingly obsolete, manifestations of capitalism in its private capitalist form. Only those working men and women who have looked at capitalism from the perspective provided by non-market socialism have been able to see through capitalism in all its forms and have avoided capitulation to one side or another in struggles between rival capitalist interests.

Implicit in this argument is a criticism of the conventional method of political analysis, which seeks to understand the world in terms of a 'left'/'right' dichotomy. The 'left' and the 'right' are different only to the extent that they provide a different political and organisational apparatus for administering the same capitalist system. What the 'left' and the 'right' have in common is that they both accept the world market is the framework in which they must operate. Since both the 'left' and the 'right' stand for the perpetuation of wage labour, it follows that they cannot offer convincing solutions to the problems which inevitably confront wage-earners. A permanent solution to the problems which are inherent in wage labour, such as insecurity and intensity of work, can only lie in the abolition of the wages system. Yet the abolition of the wages system is a demand which cannot be located on the 'left'-'right' political spectrum. Only the various currents which represent non-market socialism have consistently demanded an end to wage labour, and that is why they too cannot usefully be identified in terms of a 'left'/'right' orientation.


In order to sustain the claim that, collectively, anarcho-communism, impossibilism, council communism, Bordigism and situationism are twentieth-century socialism, it needs to demonstrated that there is a basic set of socialist principles which these currents share. Initially, four such principles can be identified. The currents of non-market socialism are all committed to establishing a new society where:

(1) Production will be for use, and not for sale on the market.

(2) Distribution will be according to need, and not by means of buying and selling.

(3)   Labour will be voluntary, and not imposed on workers by means of a coercive wages system.

(4) A human community will exist, and social divisions based on class, nationality, sex or race will have disappeared.

Let us clarify these four principles for those readers who may not immediately grasp all their ramifications.

1. Production for Use

The means of production will be owned and controlled communally, and will be used to produce whatever men, women and children need to enjoy full and satisfying lives. Levels of production will be determined by people's freely expressed desires - that is, their desires for articles of individual and social consumption and their desires to engage in creative work. Communal ownership means that all people will freely have access to the means of production, and that no section of the population will be able to exclude others from using the means of production or from enjoying the fruits of production. Production will be coordinated at local, regional and global levels, and communal control means that all people will again be free to participate in managing production and administering society as a whole. Just as no individual or group will be able to prevent others from engaging in direct production, so no section of the population will be able to exclude others from the management of production or from the administration of society.

The details of what to produce and how to produce will be decided locally. The responsibilities of the regional and global bodies will be threefold. In the first place, they will provide the statistical services which will allow production to be coordinated. Second, they will ensure that products which localities need but cannot produce are available to those localities. Third, they will handle the movement of local products at the regional and global levels. By confining the functions of regional and global bodies to these activities, they will not assume the role which the state fulfils in class-divided societies. They will not be provided with armed forces, and therefore will not be in a position to impose decisions on others.

All this is in evident contrast to capitalism. Like any mode of production, capitalism is provided with a mechanism for coordinating production. In capitalism's case, this mechanism is the market. But the price inherent in relying on the market is that levels of production are determined not by people's social or even biological needs, but by the population's 'effective demand' expressed as buying power. The needs of those without the ability to pay do not register on the market, and this results in means of production lying idle while millions of people are deprived. Such a barbaric situation would be impossible in the society envisaged by non-market socialists.

2. Distribution According to Need

People will be free to take whatever they choose from the consumption outlets ('shops without cash registers') in the new society, without making any payment, since money will not exist. Similarly, people will freely make use of social facilities, such as theatres and libraries, without entering into exchange relationships (i.e. buying tickets or paying fees).  Non-market socialists are confident that society could run, smoothly on this basis, without being undermined by people becoming insatiably greedy or indulging in recklessly extravagant consumption. Our confidence derives from a number of considerations. First, the production of useful articles would be much greater in the new society than in capitalism, not only because production would be freed from the constraints of the market, but also because all those presently engaged in activities which are specific to a commercial society (banking, insurance and so on), or in activities which are specific to a class-divided society (such as staffing the numerous arms of the repressive apparatus of the state), could redirect their efforts towards production. Second, since greed and conspicuous consumption are reactions to scarcity, we can expect these forms of behaviour to disappear in a society which raises production to the level where it guarantees everyone an abundant supply of all that is required for a comfortable and satisfying life. Third, in a society which is based on cooperation rather than competition, not only would the individual's sense of solidarity induce him or her to exercise self-control on occasions when this was necessary, but social disapproval would be a powerful restraint on any who were disposed to reckless extravagance.


3. Voluntary Labour

In the new society, everyone will have the right to consume, irrespective of whether they are engaged in productive activity or not. Nevertheless, non-market socialists anticipate that people will volunteer to work, and will freely give their time and effort to ensure that an abundant supply of products is constantly available. To those whose horizons do not extend beyond capitalist society, these expectations must seem preposterous. Under capitalism, workers are coerced into engaging in production by the system which makes their consumption dependent on their wages. Work within capitalism therefore is conflated with employment, and popularly is regarded merely as a means to leisure (= consumption), which becomes the end to which life is supposed to be directed.

However, non-market socialists argue that once work and employment are conceptually distinguished, work can be seen as an activity which is not merely enjoyable, but which it is biologically necessary for human beings to engage in (on a par with eating, drinking, breathing and sex). Freed from its alienating form of wage labour, work will become a creative and rewarding experience which it would be painful for people to deprive themselves of. The boring and monotonous toil of capitalism will be replaced by stimulating and diversified patterns of work, and many of the dangerous occupations which are found within capitalism will be eliminated.

Capitalism has already made these changes technically possible, but is prevented from realising them because considerations of profit outweigh human welfare. Any dangerous work which remains in the new society will be undertaken voluntarily and the only reward for the men and women engaged in it will be society's affection and esteem (as with lifeboat crews and mountain rescue teams, for example, even under capitalism).


4. A Human Community


Capitalism is a divided society. The basic divisions within capitalism are class divisions, which exist because the means of production are owned and controlled by sections of the population and not by society as a whole. Sectional ownership can be maintained only when it is constantly reinforced by the state, and since states exercise their authority over geographical areas, national divisions are perpetuated by capitalism. Furthermore, since labour power is a marketable commodity under capitalism, wage-earners throughout the world compete with one another to sell their labour power to those who employ them. Such competition forms the basis of the sexual, racial and other divisions which divide the working class, and which are skilfully manipulated by the ruling class in order to maintain capital's ascendancy over wage labour.

The society envisaged by non-market socialists would remove all these divisions at one stroke, by realising the communal ownership of the means of production. Since capitalism is an integrated economic system whose market encompasses the whole world, it can be removed only by an equally world-enveloping system which displaces the market.

The new society which non-market socialists envisage must therefore be a human community on a global scale. National frontiers will not exist. Cultural and linguistic diversity might flourish within the human community of socialism, but in a moneyless world where distribution was according to need, there would be no way in which the embracing of a certain culture or the use of a certain language could confer economic advantages or disadvantages. In a world owned by all, all would be brothers and sisters.

Although these four basic socialist principles are shared by the currents which represent non-market socialism, they are not sufficient for distinguishing the non-market socialists from all their political opponents. We said before that 'communism' figures in Leninist ideology as a mirage which is forever receding into the distance, and this enables Leninists of all hues to subscribe in the long term to these four basic socialist principles. For example, books published with the approval of the Russian state inform us that:

Under communism, consumer goods - to say nothing of capital goods [sic] - cease to be commodities. Trade and money will outlive themselves. Flats, cultural, communication and transport facilities, meals, laundries, clothes, etc., will all be free.

Stores and shops will be turned into public warehouses where members of communist society will be supplied with commodities [sic] for personal use. The need for wages and other forms of remuneration will disappear.5

Apart from the silly slips about capital and commodities existing in communism, this could be taken as an acceptable sketch of the new society. Even better - since he drops Lenin's arbitrary distinction between 'socialism' and 'communism' - is what the Trotskyist Ernest Mandel has written about a 'socialist economy':

The withering-away of commodity and money economy is, however, only one of the factors bringing about the disappearance of social inequality, classes and the state.6

A fifth principle is therefore required in order to distinguish the non-market socialists from all varieties of Leninists, including the Trotskyists. This principle can be formulated as follows:


(5) Opposition to capitalism as it manifests itself in all existing countries.


Non-market socialists do not take sides in the wars and struggles for supremacy between rival states which are a permanent feature of world capitalism. On the contrary, non-market socialists are hostile to all states, including those which falsely proclaim themselves as 'socialist' or 'workers' states'. Indeed, it was the various currents of non-market socialists who pioneered the theory of state capitalism in order to clarify the nature of self-styled 'workers' states', starting with Russia, and in order to give a theoretical explanation for their refusal to support such states.





Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, the US government deported a number of activists who were of Russian origin, including the anarcho-communists Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman. Berkman and Goldman went to Russia and observed Leninist rule at first hand. On the basis of his experiences, Berkman described the Russian economy in 1922 as 'a combination of State and private capitalism'7 and this view was echoed by anarcho-communists elsewhere. As Osugi Sakae wrote in Japan, also in 1922: 'the struggle between the proletariat on one side and state and private capitalism on the other is still continuing in Russia'.8

The council communist Otto Ruhle journeyed to Russia in 1920 and reported in 1921, after his return to Germany, that: 'The dictatorship of the party is commissar-despotism, is state capitalism.'9 A decade later, various council communist groups issued in Holland a set of Theses on Bolshevism, which declared in part:

The socialization concept of the Bolsheviks is therefore nothing but a capitalist economy taken over by the State and directed from the outside and above by its bureaucracy. The Bolshevik socialism is state-organized capitalism.10

Despite the fact that no members of the impossibilist Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB) visited Russia in the Immediate aftermath of the 1917 Revolution, by 1920 from its vantage point in Britain, the Socialist Standard was already able to discern that Leninist policy amounted to state capitalism.11 At a later stage, when Lenin was dead and his successors were engaged in a vicious struggle for power, the SPGB clearly expressed the non-market socialist conviction that, since Leninists of all types are advocates of capitalism, from a working-class standpoint there is nothing to choose between them. Commenting on the struggle between Stalin and Trotsky, the Socialist Standard wrote: 'Both Trotsky and Stalin draw up their programmes within the framework of state and private capitalism which prevails in Russia.'12

Although the Bordigists and the situationists reached the conclusion that state capitalism exists in Russia and elsewhere at a later stage than the other currents of non-market socialists, for many years now all five currents have attempted to dispel popular illusions about the state capitalist countries. Not only have they exposed the capitalist features of the state capitalist countries, but they have counterposed to state capitalism the alternative vision of a genuinely socialist society which could liberate humankind from indignity and oppression by incorporating principles 1-4 which we outlined above. It is this, above all, which distinguishes the non-market socialists from the Trotskyists and other varieties of Leninists. The Trotskyists have been inhibited from counterposing to capitalism the alternative of non-market socialism, because the focus of their attention has been the relatively minor differences which exist between traditional, private capitalism and capitalism as it manifests itself in their so-called 'workers' states'. To express this schematically, the Trotskyists' failure to embrace principle 5 has caused principles 1-4 to be relegated to (at best) the background of their concerns. Alternatively, one could say that the Trotskyists have lost their 'utopianism' (i.e. their identification with no nation-state) by allowing themselves to be sucked into struggles between rival capitals and by electing to defend some capitalist states against others. This has resulted in an unbridgeable divide between Trotskyism and the five currents of non-market socialism.





Having identified the five principles which the various currents of non-market socialists collectively hold, the issues which have separated these currents and provoked their mutual criticism must also be considered briefly.

The anarcho-communists have seen Marxism as yet another form of politics which seeks to maintain the power of the state. Not only have anarcho-communists identified Marxism with statism in general, but in particular they have identified Marxism with the Leninist states. They have argued that the characteristics of Leninist state capitalism derive from the Marxist principles on which it claims to be based. Conversely, just as the anarcho-communists generally have made no distinction between Marxism and Leninism, so the other non-market socialist currents have reciprocated by indiscriminately lumping the anarcho-communists together with all other varieties of anarchists, be they Stirnerite individualists, anarcho-capitalist 'libertarians' or whatever. In other words, they have chosen to ignore the commitment of the anarcho-communists to communism.

Although not all impossibilists have been committed to parliamentary activity, the SPGB - as the best-known impossibilist group - has been separated from the other currents of non-market socialists perhaps above all by its belief that parliamentary elections can be put to a revolutionary use. The SPGB has insisted that the paradigm of socialist revolution consists of the working class consciously electing a majority of socialist MPs to the national assemblies in different countries, whereupon 'the machinery of government ... may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation'.13 A parliamentary strategy of this type has been anathema to the other currents of non-market socialists.

Council communism has emphasised the part to be played by councils in the projected socialist revolution, and has combined its advocacy of councils with hostility towards trade unions. One repercussion of this emphasis on councils has been a perennial difficulty faced by council communists when it comes to deciding the respective roles of the workers' councils and the political party. Hence, one can say that not only has the council communists' emphasis on councils separated them from the other currents of non-market socialists, but that it has also acted as a source of division among the council communists themselves. In extreme cases, attachment to the workers' councils as an organisational form has entirely eclipsed the communist element in council communism, resulting in a variety of 'councillism' which is compatible with production for the market.

The Bordigists have seen themselves as a vanguard which must lead the working class to socialism. Their conviction that they have the responsibility to lead the working class derives from the premise that only after the achievement of socialism could the mass of the workers become conscious socialists. The other currents of non-market socialists have denounced the Bordigists' vanguardism and have argued that (to quote from the statutes of the First International) 'the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself14 and not of self-appointed leaders.

Perhaps because of their artistic origins, the situationists have often seemed to be more concerned with self-expression than with communicating their ideas to wage-earners. The situationists have seen the other currents of non-market socialists as outdated and, at best, the products of earlier stages of capitalist development. On the other hand, the other currents of non-market socialists have often criticised the situationists as 'modernists' who have been overly influenced by current intellectual fashions and who have shirked the arduous toil of sustained, organised activity within the working class.

The differences between the various currents of non-market socialists are deep-rooted and have acted to keep these currents separate from one another and mutually hostile. Despite this, the claim which is advanced here is that these differences constitute a 'periphery' which is relatively less important than the commonly held 'core' of socialist principles which were examined earlier. What grounds are there for regarding the 'core' as more significant than the 'periphery'? Essentially, the argument is that the 'core' principles of socialism relate to the vital task of posing a socialist alternative to capitalism, while the 'peripheral' differences largely arise from the debate over how socialism can be achieved (by means of parliamentary elections, workers' councils, vanguard parties and so on). Of course, one cannot pretend that the method of achieving socialism is an unimportant question. Certainly, the choice of means has implications for the nature of the projected end. Nevertheless, in the circumstances of the twentieth century, when socialism is widely misunderstood as Social Democracy and Leninism, the prime responsibility of socialists is to encourage wage-earners, as they come into conflict with capital, to see that a non-market alternative to capitalist production represents the only lasting solution to their problems. In this regard, all five currents of non-market socialists have played a positive role. On the other hand, precisely because for most of this century mere handfuls of wage-earners have been committed to non-market socialism, the fierce polemics over the means to achieve socialism which non-market socialists have engaged in have been largely academic.

One can illustrate the above argument by taking the Bordigists as an example and considering further their commitment to vanguardism. As has already been mentioned, with the exception of the Bordigists, most non-market socialists reject the idea that a vanguard can lead the wage-earners to socialism. They interpret the maxim of the First International that 'the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself' to mean that capitalism can only be overthrown, and that socialism can only be achieved, by a majority of conscious socialists. On the other hand, the Bordigists believe that a socialist majority is unattainable under capitalism. They envisage the socialist revolution in terms of action by a vanguard because they insist that only in the changed material conditions of socialism could the majority become socialists.

Some non-market socialists would see this as sufficient reason for denying that the Bordigists are socialists. However, I think it can be shown that the Bordigists' vanguardism is not crucially important in the present situation. Like the other currents of non-market socialists, the Bordigists engage in activity to challenge capitalist ideology and to popularise socialist ideas. Depending on the country and the cultural environment in which they exist, wage-earners may stumble across the Bordigists or across one of the other currents of non-market socialism. Just as with any other current of non-market socialism, wage-earners who make contact with the Bordigists will find the experience useful for gaining a recognition of what socialism genuinely means. Similarly, they can gain from the Bordigists an understanding that capitalism is a single, unified world system, which exists in all countries and dominates the entire globe. Looked at in this way, the question of vanguardism has little significance under present circumstances. Any wage-earner who encounters the Bordigists and is impressed by their theories is accepted as part of the vanguard. Nobody who agrees is turned away; it is assumed that they are part of the vanguard.

The Bordigists' image of themselves as a vanguard is not vitally important at present because the question of vanguardism will ultimately be settled by the practical actions of wage-earners at the relevant time. It is up to the wage-earners to carry out the socialist revolution and to prove the Bordigists wrong. Of course, if the Bordigists persisted with their determination to act as a vanguard even in the face of a majority of conscious socialists, the situation would be drastically different from that which currently pertains - and this would call for a drastically different response. Suppose that under the circumstances where a majority of conscious socialists were actually engaged in transforming society to socialism, the Bordigists were to proclaim: 'Hands off the socialist revolution! It is our affair. We do not recognise that you workers are capable of achieving socialist consciousness.' Clearly, in such a situation, additional principles to those which have been formulated to cover present circumstances would swiftly be generated, and equally swiftly (and deservedly) the workers would sweep the Bordigists and all other would-be leaders aside.

Implicit in the foregoing discussion is the idea that the distinction between 'core' and 'periphery' is not fixed, but reflects the prevailing circumstances. In the current situation, the prime responsibility of socialists is to challenge the economic mechanism and the set of social relations which constitute capitalism by demonstrating that society would be organised differently in socialism. The core principles of socialism which were formulated earlier are a reflection of this priority, in that they are principally concerned with the question of (capitalist or socialist) ends. In a different situation, when the socialist revolution was imminent, the question of means (how to effect the socialist transformation of society) would also demand urgent attention. Consequently, the key principles of socialism would necessarily have to be extended in order to encompass the pressing questions of means as well as ends. As a result, the boundary between 'core' and 'peripheral' questions would naturally alter, and a more extensive set of criteria for distinguishing socialists from non-socialists would be required than at present. However, to anticipate this development, and to construct artificially an extended set of socialist principles which encompass means as well as ends, even when the circumstances of the socialist revolution lie in the future and hence are speculative, is to ignore material conditions and to construct a suprahistorical theory.

One reason why the distinction between 'core' and 'peripheral' areas of their theory has not been made by the non-market socialists is the tendency of most currents to set themselves up as a minuscule group or 'party', which boasts a detailed programme encompassing every aspect of socialist theory. Under current conditions, the group then becomes a besieged citadel which confronts not only the hostile capitalist world but also the majority of wage-earners, whose ideas, about socialism are the result of the illusions spread by Social democrats and Leninists. In such a situation, the group battles to maintain its doctrinal purity in the face of the constant threat of being swamped by the ideology of capitalism. The very survival of the group seems to depend on the grim defence of every dot and comma of group doctrine, and the resulting 'besieged citadel' mentality makes it difficult to distinguish what is crucial in the group's programme from what is contingent (in the terms of this discussion, the 'core' from the 'periphery').





If and when the time comes when the mass of wage-earners turn to non-market socialism as the means to liberate themselves, it is possible, and even likely, that all the existing currents of non-market socialists will be superseded and that an entirely new movement will be built. Even so, the 'core' principles of socialism which the five currents of non-market socialists have collectively maintained will be the theoretical foundation stones on which a mass movement of genuine socialists will be constructed. In fact, the process of superseding the five currents does not lie entirely in the future. It is a process which proceeds continually, so that in recent decades new developments have taken place and groups have emerged which are significant.

In my view, the most important development which needs to take place within the milieu of non-market socialism (and which, to an extent, is taking place) is for the notion of a supposed 'transitional society' between capitalism and socialism to be rejected. To the extent that this development occurs, it enables non-market socialism to differentiate itself even more clearly from Social Democracy and Leninism, by adding a further principle to the five socialist principles which we identified earlier. The sixth principle can be formulated as follows:


(6) Capitalism can be transcended only by immediately being replaced by socialism.


To talk in terms of capitalism 'immediately being replaced by socialism' is not to suggest that socialism will be free of problems when it is first established. No doubt, the mess which capitalism has made of the world will ensure that there are major problems which a newly emergent socialist society will have to solve. Yet what the phrase 'immediately being replaced by socialism' does imply is that the solution of these problems bequeathed by capitalism will have to take place from the outset on a socialist basis. Various approaches which are popularly misunderstood as 'transitional' can be ruled out in advance. For example, one could not have bits of socialism transplanted into still-functioning capitalism, any more than elements of capitalism could be left in situ within newly established socialism. Still less could one legitimately describe the doomed offspring which would result from such far-fetched attempts at social hybridisation as a 'transitional society'.

One feature which capitalism and socialism have in common is their all-or-nothing quality, their inability to coexist in today's highly integrated world, which can provide an environment for only one or other of these rival global systems. In the circumstances of the twentieth century, the means of production must either function as capital throughout the world (in which case wage labour and capitalism persist internationally) or they must be commonly owned and democratically controlled at a global level (in which case they would be used to produce wealth for free, worldwide distribution). No halfway house between these two starkly opposed alternatives exists, and it is the impossibility of discovering any viable 'transitional' structures which ensures that the changeover from world capitalism to world socialism will have to take the form of a short, sharp rupture (a revolution), rather than an extended process of cumulative transformation.

How, then, might a newly emergent socialist society solve problems, such as shortage of food, which capitalism has created? The first point to make is that the problem of twentieth-century hunger is a social problem and not a technical problem. Technically, the means to feed the world's population are within humankind's reach, but it is capitalism's priority of production for profit which prevents plentiful conditions from being actually realised. Socialism will remove the straitjacket which calculations of profitability impose on production, so that a situation of abundance - where men, women and children throughout the world will be able to take according to their self-determined needs - will be rapidly achieved.

Nevertheless, accessible though such a situation is, its achievement will require time. The time involved will certainly be nothing like the relatively lengthy process which Marx envisaged in 1875 before 'all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly'.15 Nothing is more ridiculous today than to repeat the stale formulae of more than one hundred years ago, and hence to ignore the immense developments in the techniques of producing wealth which capitalism has (or, more accurately, the wage-earning wealth producers within capitalism have) brought about. As far as the production of food is concerned, we are talking of at most a few harvests before enough food - and more than enough - could be produced for every man, woman and child to have free access to whatever they required. How might socialist society organise itself during the intervening months or, at most, few years before actual plenty would be produced?

Certainly the answer is not by constructing a 'transitional society' sandwiched between capitalism and socialism. What will be required will be temporary measures which are compatible with, and will lend strength to, emergent socialism; not the construction of a so-called 'transitional society' which would need to be dismantled before socialism could even be instituted. Obviously, the men and women who have newly established socialism will first turn to the 'milk lakes' and the 'butter mountains' which capitalism has accumulated because of its inability to sell such commodities profitably on the world markets. Many nation-states also have strategic stocks of vital supplies, designed to provide some security against the disruption of supplies in the event of war. Since the establishment of socialism will entail the immediate abolition of all markets, nations and wars, sources of supply such as these will be turned to socially useful ends and made freely available.

The scale of any shortages which could not be eliminated by such stop-gap measures is a matter of speculation, but let us assume that shortages would exist for a time before production on a socialist basis could get fully under way and abundance could be attained. How would socialist men and women handle such shortages? It is out of the question that they would make selective use of the wages system or monetary distribution. Such measures would not be 'transitional' but would instead guarantee the continuation of capitalism. Equally unthinkable would be any suggestion that a machinery of state might be retained temporarily as a 'transitional' apparatus for enforcing a rationing system. The persistence of the state would signify that class divisions had not been eradicated. Newly emergent socialism, struggling to solve the problems which it has inherited from capitalism, will have to meet any shortages by relying on the very item it can safely be assumed it will have in abundance: revolutionary enthusiasm.

In the Critique of the Gotha Programme, Marx asserted that 'Right can never be higher than the economic structure of society and its cultural development conditioned thereby.'16 With regard to the long-term functioning of socialist society, he was absolutely right. Any attempt to run socialism, year after year, by compensating for material shortages by ideological appeals to revolutionary enthusiasm would be bound to fail. But thanks to the material advances brought about by capitalism, long-term shortages are not the problems with which socialism would now have to grapple. The problems which are likely to arise are those associated with temporary shortfalls prior to the attainment of abundance; and it is precisely such a transient situation which could be negotiated by relying on revolutionary solidarity.

It will be the revolutionary enthusiasm of millions of socialist men and women, and their determination to make a success of the new society, which will bring about the transformation of the capitalist world in the first place, as they take whatever actions are necessary to bring the means of production under common ownership. These same qualities of enthusiasm and determination will not suddenly evaporate as soon as the means of production are freed from their role of capital. They will exist as a massive reservoir of popular commitment to the goals of socialism, and it is these reserves of revolutionary ardour which people will be able to tap in order to tide society over any period of temporary scarcity. It will be no great hardship for revolutionary men and women to restrict voluntarily certain areas of their own consumption until universal plenty is secured. Having recently stormed the citadels of capitalist power, these selfsame revolutionary men and women will make light of any further period of temporary and selective self-restraint that is necessary - perceiving it as a continuation of the revolution, a small additional price to pay in order to eliminate capitalist misery and indignity for ever.

It always was an illusion to imagine that the route from capitalist scarcity to socialist abundance lies along a diversionary path marked with signposts to an imaginary 'transitional society'. The route to socialism has to be direct; as a moneyless, classless, stateless world community, socialism has to be achieved immediately, or not at all; and any temporary lack of abundance has to be compensated for by the revolutionary enthusiasm of the millions of men and women who will be the collective builders of the socialist world. Fortunately, it is the technological advances of capitalism which have ensured that - given the will for socialism - full-scale abundance can be instituted rapidly. In the light of the productive potential now available to humankind, the notion of a 'transitional society' should clearly be seen not as a bridge leading beyond 'capitalism, but rather as an ideological barrier obstructing the path to socialism.

The idea of a society which acts as a 'transitional' stage between capitalism and socialism has largely been absent from the thinking of the anarcho-communists, impossibilists and situationists, but it has been entertained by some council communists and the Bordigists. For example, in 1930 the Group of International Communists of Holland (GIC) borrowed some of Marx's speculations in the Critique of the Gotha Programme and envisaged a 'transitional society' based on exchange and labour-time ca1culation.17 As for the Bordigists, they have taken the view that the party should exercise power after the revolution and administer a society which essentially would remain capitalist for a period until socialism could be achieved. We have seen the dire effects which result from the Trotskyist belief that Russia, China and the other state capitalist countries are 'transitional' 'workers' states'. Council communist and Bordigist ideas have been less damaging because, unlike the Trotskyists, these currents do not identify their notional 'transitional society' with any existing state. Yet, even so, all notions of a 'transitional society' are both mistaken and fraught with peril. They are mistaken because capitalism and socialism (as market and non-market societies respectively) are totally incompatible, so that no 'transitional' combination of capitalist and socialist elements is possible. They are perilous because entertaining the notion of a 'transitional society' inevitably results in the goal of socialism, to a greater or lesser extent, being eclipsed. It is for these reasons that I have argued that all non-market socialists should reject the notion that a 'transitional society' will be interposed between capitalism and socialism. The problems confronting humankind are too grim to allow the wage-earners of the world to solve them by 'transitional' half measures. Only the complete abolition of the market, classes, the state and national frontiers offers hope for the future.





1.       Rudolph Bahro, The Alternative in Eastern Europe (London: New Left Books, 1978).

2.       Adam Buick and John Crump, State Capitalism: the Wages System under New Management (London: Macmillan, 1986).

3.       Ibid.

4.       Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Collected Works, vol. VI (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1976) p. 502.

5.       Man's Dreams Are Corning True (Moscow: Progress, 1966) p. 224.

6.       Ernest Mandel, Marxist Economic Theory (London: Merlin, 1968) p.673.

7.       Alexander Berkman, The Russian Tragedy (Sanday: Cienfuegos, 1976) p.25.

8.       Osugi Sakae, 'Rono Roshia no Shin Rodo Undo', in Osugi Sakae Zenshu, vol. II (Tokyo: 1963) p. 604.

9.       Otto Rühle, From the Bourgeois to the Proletarian Revolution (London and Glasgow: Socialist Reproduction/Revolutionary Perspectives, 1974) p. xvii.

10.   The Bourgeois Role of Bolshevism (Glasgow: Glasgow People's Press, no date) p. 21.

11.   Socialist Standard, July 1920.

12.   Socialist Standard, December 1928.

13.    SPGB, Declaration of Principles (1904).

14.   David Fernbach, Karl Marx: the Revolutions of 1848 - Political Writings, vol. I (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973) p. 65.

15.   Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, Selected Works, vol. III (Moscow: Progress, 1970) p. 19.

16.   Ibid, p. 19.

17.   'Temps de travail social moyen: base d'une production et d'une repartition communiste', Supplement to Informations Correspondances Ouvrieres, 101 (1971); see also Anton Pannekoek, Workers' Councils (Cambridge, Mass.: Root and Branch, 1970). For a critical examination of this area of Marx's thought, see John Crump, A Contribution to the Critique of Marx (London: Social Revolution/Solidarity, 1975).

This text is chapter two of the longer and now out of print work “Non-Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries” Maximilien Rubel & John Crump (Palgrave Macmillan) 1987.