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Forces of Production and Relations of Production in Socialist Society

Locke also has a principle – we should notice which limits the volume of goods that may be
accumulated to that quantity which can be properly
used or disposed of. A person ‘offended against the
Law of Nature’ if he allowed the things in his
possession to spoil or perish ‘without their due
use’ (25). What is the rationale of this provision,
if not that the spoilage of goods is to be deplored
just in case the needs or interests that some have
in those goods remain unsatisfied? After all,
decay is an integral part of natural cycles, and is
hardly contrary to the ‘Law of Nature’ in itself.

The rationale of the prinCiple is surely that
accumulation is to be limited by the consideration
that none should be deprived, by the greed of others”
of the means to satisfy their needs and legiti.mate
interests. To take this seriously, however, is to
leave liberalism far behind.

Rousseau is a better guide than are the Libertarians
to the .moral status and implications of the institurtions of private property:

The first .man who, having enclosed a piece of
ground, bethought hi.mself of saying ‘This is
.mine, ‘ and found people si.mple enough to
believe him, was the real founder of civil
so~iety. From how .many cri.mes, wars, and
murders, fro.m how .many horrors and misfortunes might not anyone have saved mankind,
by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch,
and crying to his fellows: ‘Beware of listening
to this imposter; you are undone if you once
forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us
all, and the earth itself to nobody (26).

26 J. -J. Rousseau, A Discourse on the Origin of Inequality, p192 (in The
Social Contract and Discourses, trans. and ed; G.D. H. Cole, London,
1968).

25 Locke, op. cit. , Section 37.

rorces of Pl’Oduclion
and
Relalions of Produclion
• Socialisl Sociely
In
Sean Savers

I Introduction
It seems evi:ient that class ‘jifferences ani class

struggle continue to exist in socialist societies; that
is to· say, in societies like the Soviet Union and
China, which have undergone socialist revolutions
and in which private property in the means of production has been largely abolished. I shall not
attempt to prove this proposition here; rather it will
form my starting point. For my purpose in this
paper is to show how the phenomenon of class in
socialist society can be understood and interpreted
in IVlarxist terms; and, in particular, to explain and
expound Mao Zedong’s attempt to do so. For one of
Mao’s most striking and important contributions to
Marxism was his recognition that ‘contraJictions
among the people’ continue to exist in socialist
society, an1 his attempt to explain them within the
theoretical framework of historical materialism.

Marx outlines his account of historical development
in the following well-known words:

It is not the consciousness of men that determines
their being, but on the contrary it is their social
1 This is a revised and much expanded version of a paper which appeared
originally in China Policy Study Group BROADSHEET, July 1977.

being that determines their consciousness. At a
certain stage of their development, the material
productive forces of society come into conflict
with the existing relations of production or what is merely a legal expression for the same
thing – with the property relations within the
framework of which they have hitherto operated.

From forms of development of the productive
forces these relations turn into their fetters.

At that point an era of social revolution begins.

With the change in the economic foundation the
whole immense superstructure is more slowly
or more rapidly transformed.

(Marx, Preface to A Contribution to the Critique
of Political Economy)
It has been common to interpret these words as expressing a simple form of economic or even technological jeterminism which would rule out the very
possibility of class divisions continuing to be a
fundamental feature of socialist society. For,
according to this account, a socialist society, by
abolishing the private ownership of the means of
production, thereby abolishes the material and
economic basis of class differences; and so classes
are jestined to die out in socialist society as the
forces of production are developed.

According to this interpretation, which I shall call
19

the ‘traditional’ account, in Marx’s account of historical development all the emphasis is placed upon
the developm-ent of the productive forces. These are
regarded in merely technical and economic terms,
as machinery and techniques, and looked upon as
the sole dynamic element in historical change. As
the productive forces develop in capitalist society
and become more social in character, through the
development of new maChinery and new techniques,
they come into conflict with the existing relations
of production which are embodied, on this view, in
the system of individual ownership. This contradiction is reflected in an intensifying class struggle,
the outcome of which is ultimately socialism. With
the abolition of the private ownership of the means
of production, the relations of production are
brought into harmony with the social character of
the productive forces. The economic basis of class
is thus, supposedly, abolished in socialist society
and class struggle destined to die out.

Of course, it is not suggested that all class conflict
immediately ceases after the expropriation of
private property. On the contrary, as all Marxists
recognise and as all historical experience shows,
.in the first period of socialis m the new society has
powerful enemies to contend with. Externally, the
surrounding imperialist powers use all the means at
their disposal, including armed intervention, to
restore the old society. And there are internal
enemies too: the expropriated classes, together
with those who have lost power, privilege and position as a result of the overthrow of the old society,
all seek to regain their old property and positions.

They seek to frustrate, sabotage ani oppose the new
society – they seek to overthrow it and to restore
the old. Furthermore, the habits, customs, beliefs
and attitudes of the old society are still active, and
they continually hamper the ~evelopment of the new.

Nevertheless, within the socialist society itself the
material basis of class has, according to this
account, been abolished. As the new society is consolidated and as it develops, old enemies become
increasingly resigned and. reconciled, and they die
off. Old habits ani attitudes should die out too for,
supposedly, they have no basis in the new society,
except in the re maining areas of backward, s mallscale, individual production. The major task for
socialist society ceases to be the political one of
class struggle, and becomes the purely economic
and technical one of developing the productive
forces, of moderniSing the economy. Thus, simply
through the development of the productive forces
under a socialist system of ownership, the old class
distinctions are supposed to die out automatically,
creating the conditions for ‘the withering away of
the state’ and the transition to full communism.

By and large, this has been the official Soviet and
Eastern European account of socialist society.

However, the actual historical development of these
societies manifestly contradicts the picture which
this account presents. For, in fact, in the Soviet
Union, in Eastern Europe and in all other socialist
societies, class differences and increasing class
conflict have become abund.antly apparent, even to
the casual observer. In the 60 years since the
October Revolution, in a period when the productive
power of Soviet society has developed gigantically,
there has been no sign of class and class struggle
automatically ‘dying out’, nor of the state ‘withering
away’.

20

It is sometimes said that Trotskyism recognises
the continued existence of class conflict in socialist
society and offers an alternative account of it in
Marxist terms. But this is false. In the Soviet Union,
it is said, a ‘bureaucracy’ has seized power from
the proletariat, the revolution has been ‘betrayed’;
ani. the result is a monstrOSity: neither a socialist
society nor a capitalist one, but some new form
inexplicable within the traditional framework of
Marxist thought. In other words, Trotskyis m
abandons Marxis m in its account of actually existing
socialist societies. In fact, underlying most
Trotskyist accounts of the Soviet Union, China an 1
other historically existing socialist societies (none
of which, needless to say, accord with the Trotskyite ldeal), is the same traditional, mechanical and
economistic picture of Marxism (2). As we have
seen, according to this view, the abolition of private
ownership abolishes the economic basis of class.

Therefore, the conflicts which Trotskyism correctly
recognises to exist in socialist societies must be
explained by it in other, non-Marxist, terms.

Trotskyis m duly abandons the Marxist account of
class, and talks instead of the ruling class of
‘socialist’ societies as a ‘bureaucracy’ – a group
which is defined in purely political and social terms
and. not in the materialist terms of Marxis m, not in
terms of its relationship to the means of proluction.

If the traditional interpretation of Marxis m were

the correct one, then the continued existences of
classes in socialist society would indeed constitute
the ‘refutation’ of Marxis m it is so often claimed
to be by Marx’s critics. In what follows, however,
I want to try to show that Mao’s work offers an
important alternative interpretation of Marxism,
and one which is able to account fof classes in
socialist society. For a fundamental aspect of
Mao’s understanding of socialis m has been his
insistence that class differences and class struggle
continue to exist in socialist society. The abolition
of private ownership of the means of production, he
argues, is not alone a sufficient basis for the
abolition of classes.

In China, although in the main socialist transformation has been completed with respect to
the system of ownership, and although the
large -scale and turbulent class struggles of
the masses characteristic of the previous
revolutionary periods has in the main come to
an end . •. the class struggle is by no means
over. The class struggle between the proletariat
and the bourgeoisie . .. will continue to be long
and tortuous and at times will even become very
acute. The proletariat seeks to transform the
world·according to its own world outlook, and
so does the bourgeoisie. In this respect, the
question of which will win out, socialis m or
capitalism, is still not really settled.

(‘On the Correct Handling of Contradictions
Among the People’, pl15)
Furthermore, according to IVlao, socialist society
can and must be analysed within the basic theoretical
framework of historical materialis m:

The basic contradictions in socialist society are
still those between the relations of production
and the productive forces and between the
superstructure and the economic base.

(op. cit., p92)
2 A noteworthy exception to this generalisation is c. J. Arthur ‘s useful
discussion of these issues in ‘The Revolution Betrayed’, B..adkal.

PhilosolillY 3, Winter 1972.

To see how these terms can be applied to socialist
society it is essential to understand the Marxist
account of the economic basis of society in a concrete and dialectical way. The productive forces and
the relations of production must be seen as two
contradictory aspects of a single totality: the productive activity of people in society. In particular,
the relations of production must not be entirely
reduced to the legal relation of ownership, nor must
they be entirely abstracted from the forces of production. Furthermore, the forces of production
must not be conceived simply as machinery and
techniques, in abstraction from the relations of production. I will take each of these points in turn.

11 The Relations of Production
The traditional interpretation of Marxism that I
have just been considering tends to equate the relations of production with the legal system of ownership. Ownership is regarded, not as ‘merely a
legal expression’ of the existing relations of projuction, but as their sole aspect. It is true, of
course, that the acquisition of political power by the
proletariat and the transformation of the system of
ownership are the absolutely fundamental and necessary preconditions for the creation of a socialist
society. However, it must be seen that the abolition
of private ownership is the beginning and not the end
of ‘the epoch of social revolution’ to which Marx
refers (see above quote). The process of socialist
revolution involves not just a change in the system
of ownership, but also a thorough and total transformation of all aspects of the social relations of
production and also of the ‘whole immense superstructure’. In Marx’s words:

Socialis m is the declaration of the permanence
of the revolution, the class dictatorship of the
proletariat as the necessary transition point
to the abolition of class distinctions generally,
to the abolition of all the relationships of production on which they rest, to the abolition of all the
social relations that correspond to these relations
of production, to the revolutionising of all the
ideas that result from these social relations.

(The Class Struggles in France 1848-50, p223)

1
f

In other words, although ownership is indee-:1 a vital
and essential aspect of the concrete social relations
which constitute the material basis of class distinctions, class and class struggle in society are not
dependent upon this aspect alone. Class differences
are embodied in all aspects of the social relations
of production, as Lenin recognised when he wrote:

Classes are large groups of people differing
from each other by the place they occupy in a
historically determined system of social production, by their relations (in most cases fixed and
forlY’.ulated by law) to the means of production,
by their role in the social organisation of labour,
and consequently by the dimensions of the share
of social wealth of which they dispose and the
morle of acquiring it.

(‘A Great Beginning’, p486)
Socialis m – the transition to classless society must involve the transformation of all the aspects
of the relations of production mentioned here by
Lenin: not only a change in the system of ownership,
but also a transformation of the relations of distribution and in the organisation and division of labour.

These changes are fundamental and profound ones,

and they will involve a long historical process. Until
they are co mpleted, social relations will continue to
have class features in socialist society and class
struggle will continue to exist. Such class struggle
has a material basis within socialist society itself.

Bourgeois forces continue to arise, not just because
of external influences or of attitudes and habits from
the past – they are continually engendered anew
within socialist society, on the basis of bourgeois
aspects of the relations of production which persist
under the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

The social basis of class cannot be understood
merely as a matter of the ownership or non-ownership of the means of production. For this has the
effect of isolating the legal system of ownership
from the other aspects of the relations of production,
which are its concrete conditions, and thus of making an abstraction of it. Marx, by contrast, sees
property as a concrete social phenomenon:

In the real world .•. the division of labour anj
all M. Proudhon’s other categories are social
relations forming in their entirety what is today
known as property; outside these relations
bourgeois property is nothing but a metaphysical
or juristic illusion.

(Letter to P. V. Annenkov, 28 December 1846)
By the ‘relations of production’, therefore, Marx
understands something more than mere ownership
in its narrow, legal sense. What more? Mao,
following Lenin as I have suggested, distinguishes
two other aspects, besides the system of ownership,
which go to make up the relations of production:

(i) the system of distribution, and (ii) the social
organisation and division of labour.

(a) Distribution
As regards the system of distribution in socialist
society, it is impossible to live merely by ownership
of the means of production. To live one must work,
and one receives goods in proportion to the amount
of one’s work according to the principle, ‘to each
according to his work’. This represents a great
advance in equality over the system of distribution
in capitalist societies; and yet, as Marx emphasises
in his Critique of the Gotha Programme, the principle of distribution in socialist society ‘is still
perpetually burdened with a bourgeois limitation’

(P16) – it remains an imperfect and still transitional
form.

Equal right here is still – in prinCiple – bourgeois
right. .. It recognizes no class differences, because everyone is only a worker like everyone
else; but it tacitly recognizes unequal indivijual
endowment and thus productive capacity of the
worker as natural privileges … Further, one
worker is married, another not; one has more
children than another, and so on and so forth.

Thus, with an equal performance of labour, and
hence an equal share in the social consumption
fund, one will in fact receive more than another,
one will be richer than another, and so on …

But these defects are inevitable in the first phase
of communist society as it is when it has just
emerged after prolonged birth pangs from
capitalist society.

(Pp16-17)
Such ‘defects’ certainly exist in China. Although
China is a remarkably egalitarian society by western
standar:1s, inequalities exist there, and it would be
21

utopian to imagine that things could be otherwise in
a society at China’s stage of historical development.

The pertinent question to ask of a socialist society
is not, ‘Do inequalities exist in it?’, for surely they
will do; but rather, ‘How are they being handled?’,
are they being diminished or increased? To what
extent is the socialist principle of ‘to each according
to his work’ actually realised? In this connection it
is noteworthy that, by and large, China has not
developed the rigid system of privileges and ranks
so characteristic of the Soviet system. The overall
tendency in China’s socialist development has rather
been towards a restriction of the class aspects of
distribution and a closer and closer approxi.mation
to the socialist principle of distribution according
to work (although, needless to say, progress in this
direction has been uneven).

As the Soviet and Eastern European example so
clearly shows, the continued restriction of inequalities in distribution is not an automatic product of
socialist revolution; and yet, it is an important
aspect of class division which must also be tackled
in a socialist society if it is to continue to develop
along the ‘socialist road’.

(b) Social Organisation and Division of Labour
This is a further aspect of the relations of produc·tion in which class differences are embodied. For as
Marx often stresses, class division in society is
based also in the social organisation and division of
labour, and, at the most fundamental level, in the
division between mental and manual labour. Even
more so than in the case of distribution, it is clear
that a revolutionary transformation of the state and
a change in the property system – profound as these
changes are – will not immediately change the
division of labour. The processes of production,
like the tools and instruments of production, are
inherited from the previous society and can be
transformed only gradually, as the means of production are themselves transformed: this is the
work of a whole historical epoch.

In the Soviet Union there has been little attempt to
diminish the division between mental and manual
labour. In China under Mao’s leadership, by contrast, there has been a remarkable series of steps
taken to diminish what the Chinese call ‘The three
great differences’: the difference between industry
and agriculture, between town and country, between

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22

mental and manual labour. These experiments and
ideas have caught the imagination of people all over
the world. Agrun, however, one must not be carried
away by utopian dreams: it would be wrong to
imagine that the division of labour has been, or
could be, eliminated or even significantly transfor.med in a society at China’s stage of development
(3). The elimination of ‘the three great differences’

must needs be a long and gradual process, occupying the whole historical epoch of socialism.

(c) The Property System
A .material basis for class distinctions does thus
continue to exist in socialist society, even after the
abolition of private property in the means of production. It continues to exist in the relations of
production, which must be understood as comprising
not just the system of ownership, but also that of
distribution and of the division of labour. Indeed,
these other aspects of the relations of production
must be seen as the concrete basis and embodiment
of the system of ownership, which is ‘merely a
legal expression’ of the.m. And on closer scrutiny
it beco.mes clear that even the system of ownership
in the first stages of socialist society also has its
‘differences’ and ‘defects’. Individual ownership of
the means of production may all but be eliminated
relatively rapidly, but a fully socialised property
system cannot at once replace it. Collective propertymust continue to exist alongside state property
(‘property of the whole people ‘); and it is important
to see that even the transformation of the system of
ownership is co.mpleted only, as Mao says, ‘in the
main’ (4).

Bettleheim ‘8 Account
The significance of the relations of production
(beyond mere ownership) in understanding the Marxist account of class has also been strongly emphasized by a number of recent writers. In opposing
the .mechanical interpretation of Marxism, they have
rightly stressed that the relations of production
retain class features, and that a sphere of ‘bourgeois
right’ continues to exist, even after private ownership has been abolished. However, it is equally
important not to stress the role of the relations of
production and of bourgeois right in a one-sided and
exclusive way, and not to make abstractions of them.

This can result in an equal and opposite distortion
of Marxism: a voluntarist and idealist interpretation
of Marxism in place of a mechanical one; a revision- .

ism ‘fro.m the left’, as opposed to the revisionism
‘from the right’ which I have so far been
considering (5).

In opposition to both these alternatives, what needs
stressing is that the material and economic base of
class and class struggle cannot be found either in
the productive forces alone, if these are viewed in
Bettelheim, I think, is guilty of such utopianism. In his Cultural
Revolution and Industrial Organisation in China, written in 1971, he
perSistently talks as if the Chinese were not merely attempting to eliminate the division of labour within their factories, but had actually succeeded
in doing so. Now that he has turned against the Chinese (see China After
Mao, 1978), he blames them for not having done so. The error in both
cases is the very idea that a society like China could possibly have
achieved this.

4 There are interesting discussions of the Significance of the continued
existence of these two forms of property in J. V. Stalin, Economic
Problems of Socialism in the USSR, Foreign Language Press, Peking,
1972; and in Mao Tsetung, A Critique of Soviet Economics, trans. M.

Roberts, Monthly Review Press, 1977. ~
5 See Lenin, ‘Marxism and Revisionism’, Selected Works.

J

abstraction from the social relations of production,
in the social relations of production alone, if
these are abstracted from the forces of production.

No: the material basis of class struggle lies in the
interaction, the concrete unity and contradiction,
within the economic base, of the forces and relations
of production. This is what Bettelheim is saying
when he writes:

The field in which Lenin considered that ‘the
main features of what is most important, most
fundamental, have not yet been completed’ was
that of ‘the creation of the economic basis of
the socialist system’. This was to be interpreted
later as referring above all to the low level of
the productive forces in Russia, from which it
was deduced that the main thing was to ‘build
the material foundations’ of socialism. There
is no doubt that Lenin did have this aspect of
the revolution’s task in mind: it really is a task
without which progress towards socialism is not
possible. But when Lenin spoke of the ‘economic
basis’ of socialis m he did not have in mind only
the development of the productive forces, but
also, and especially, the socialist transformation
-. of production relations. These are two associated
tasks which have to be accomplished by the socialist revolution, two tasks which the Chinese
Communist Party expresses in this concise
formula: ‘Grasp Hevolution and Promote
Production’. These two tasks are dialectically
interconnected. They constitute two contradictory
aspects of a single task.

(Class Struggles in the USSR: First Period 19172..3, p443)

Bettelheim has been prominent among those in the
West who have recently tried to provide an analysis
of class struggle in socialist society in Marxist
terms. However, despite the clear statement of his
just quoted, it seems to me that there is considerable confusion on this .matter in his work. At other
times (and, unfortunately, it must be said that
these are more characteristic of his thought) he
writes as if the development of the productive
forces were entirely secondary to class struggle
and to the relations of production. For example, in
Cultural Revolution and Industrial Organisation in
China, he writes,
Iri the combination productive forces /production
relations, the latter play the dominant role by
imposing the conditions under which the productive forces are reproduced. Conversely, the
development of the productive forces never
directly determines the transformation of the
production relations; this transformation is
always the focus of intervention by the contending
classes – that is, of class struggle. The struggle
for the socialist transformation of the production
relations cannot be waged in the name of the
‘development of the productive forces’, since the
forms this development assumes reflect class
relationships and are determined by the class
interests, perceptions, aspirations, and ideas
of the contending classes.

(pp91-92)
Bettelheim is correct to oppose the traditional
interpretation (which, following the Chinese, he
calls the ‘theory of productive forces f), with its
abstract and one -sided emphasis on the role of the
development of the productive forces in shaping
history. But to oppose this theory with the opposite

theory – which we could call the ‘theory of production relations’ – that the relations of production are
always the prinCiple aspect, is simply to embrace
the opposite error. To isolate either the productive
forces or the production relations, and to make
either absolutely subordinate to the other, is to
falsify the dialectical and concrete relation between
them.

This is not to deny that in all contradictions there is
a principal and a secondary aspect; but, as Mao
says,
This situation is not static; the principal and the
non-principal aspects of a contradiction transform the.mselves into each other and the nature
of the thing changes accordingly.

(‘On Contradiction’, p54)
And he goes on to say:

Some people think that this is not true of certain
contradictions. For instance, in the contradiction
between the productive forces and the ;relations of
production, the productive forces are the principal aspect; in the contradiction between theory
and practice, practice is the principal aspect;
in the contradiction between the economic base
and the superstructure, the economic base is the
prinCipal aspect; and there is no change in their
respective positions. This is the mechanical
materialist conception, not the dialectical materialist conception. True, the productive forces,
practice and the 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
as the relations of production, theory and the
superstructure in turn manifest tnemselves in
the principal and decisive role. When it is
impossible for the productive forces to develop
without a change in the relations of production,
then the change in the relations of production
plays the prinCipal and decisive role. .. Are we
going against materialism when we say this?

No. The reason is that while we recognise that
in the general development of history the
material determines the mental and social being
determines social consciousness, we also – and
indeed must – recognise 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
materialis m and firmly upholds dialectical
materialis m.

(ibid, pp58-59)
What Mao is saying here is aimed primarily at the
mechanistic ‘theory of productive forces’, but it
surely applies with even greater force to the view
that the relations of production always play the
dominant role.

To ignore the influence of the forces of production in
historical development and to imagine that the relations of production are always dominant is to stand
things on their head – it is ijealism. Marx, by
contrast, emphasises that the relations of production are themselves ultimately the product of the
producti ve forces.

M. Proudhon the economist understands very
well that men make cloth, linen and silk
materials in definite relations of production.

3ut what he has not understood is that these
definite social relations are just as much

23

produced by men as linen, flax, etc. Social
relations are closely bound up with productive
forces. In acquiring new productive forces
men change their mode of production; and in
changing their mode of production, in changing
the way of earning their living, they change all
their social relations. The hand-mill gives you
society with the feudal lord; the steam-mill,
society with the industrial capitalist.

(Poverty of Philosophy, p95)
Of course, here as always, we must avoid giving a
mechanistic interpretation to these words. It would
certainly have been preferable if Marx had added
the qualification ‘in general’ to this brilliantly
striking aphorism. For if it is interpreted too nar·rowly it would appear to rule out the very possibility of socialist revolutions in relatively nonindustrialised societies like Russia in 1917 and
China even today, where small-scale production is
still very widespread, particularly in agriculture.

However, equally we must not deny the fundamental
materialist truth which Marx is here stating: that
the relations of production are, in general and
ultimately, a product of the productive forces. The
continued existence of s mall production does tend
towards producing class relationships – the landlord
and the peasant – and remains a gigantic force of
backwardness in socialist society. As Lenin says,
‘Small production engenders capitalism and the
bourgeoisie continuously, daily, ‘hourly, spontaneously, and on a mass scale’ (‘Left Wing’ Communism, an Infantile Disorder, p518). The consolidation
and development of socialist social relations, the
elimination of classes from society, absolutely
requires the development of the productive forces
and the elimination of such small production.

We must not make an abstraction of the relations of
production, but regard them dialectically, as in
concrete unity with the productive forces. Transformation of the relations of production and the
development of the forces of production must necessarily. go hand in hand. The relations of production
comprise the sphere of Right, which Hegel regarded
as the sphere of the Will (6). However, the sphere of
Right and of the Will, isolated and abstracted from
its material basis, is an illusion. The relations of
production cannot simply be transformed at will.

This is the error of Voluntarism. Bourgeois right
cannot be restricted, nor can anything concrete be
achieved, simply by being militant and having ‘the
correct line’. There are real, physical limitations,
in the shape of the actually existing productive
forces and the practical and economic necessities
that they impose, which condition and contradict the
political dynamic of the relations of production and
of the will. Not to recognise this is to abandon
materialis m and to abandon the scientific in favour
of the utopian approach to practical problems (7).

Why, then, does class .struggle persist in socialist
society? First of all, it is very important to see
that the relations of production are not completely
transformed with the abolition of private ownership
and a development of the productive forces, as
Bettelheim and others have rightly stressed. NeverSee Hegel, Philosophy of Right, introduction.

7 Cf. Marx: ‘The basis of Bakunin’s social revolution is the will, and not
economic conditions’ (‘Conspectus of Bakunin’s Statism and Anarchism’,
On Anarchism etc. , p149). As I am suggesting here, it seems to me that
a similar criticism applies to Bettelheim.

b

24

theless, we must go on to ask: Why must bourgeois
relations of production and bourgeois right continue
to exist in socialist society? What is the basis of
their necessity? It is on these further questions
that what Bettelheim has to say is far less
satisfactory.

Marx explicitly addresses hi.mself to the question of
the continued existence of bourgeois right in the
Critique of the Gotha Programme.

These defects are inevitable in the first phase of
com.munist society as it is when it has just
emerged after prolonged birth pangs from capitalist society. Right can never by higher than the
economic structure of society and its cultural
development conditioned thereby. In a higher
phase of communist society, after the enslaving
subordination of the individual to the division of
labour, and therewith also the antithesis between
mental and physical labour, has vanished; after
labour has become not only a means of life but
life’s prime want; after the productive forces have
also increased with the all-round development of
the individual, and all the springs of cooperative
wealth flow more abundantly – only then can the
narrow horizon of bourgeoiS right be crossed in
its entirety …

(P17)
In other words, the restriction and abolition of
bourgeois right is dependent both 011 the transformation of the relations of production and on the
development of the productive forces.

Commenting on this passage, however, Bettelheim
writes:

Everyone knows that Marx, in his. Critique of the
Gotha Programme, speaks of the ‘bourgeois
limitation’ which affects the distribution of goods
during ‘the first phase of communist society’;
however, this ‘li mitation’ is not related to the
level of the productive forces, but to ‘the enslaving subordination of the individual to the
division of labour’ and to the corresponding
social relations which hinder the development
of the productive forces.

(Class Struggles in USSR: First Period 1917 -23,
p52 note 37)
This is the very opposite of what Marx says. According to Bettelheim, the continuation of bourgeOis right
is ‘not related to the level of the productive forces’,
whereas in this very passage Marx explicitly states
the opposite: ‘right can never be higher than the
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economic structure of society.’ Marx, unlike
Bettelheim here, does not oppose productive forces
to relations of production in this exclusive, either jor
way. The transformation of social relations, the
restriction and abolition of bourgeois right in
socialist society, must go hand in hand with the
development of the productive forces, and it is an
illusion to believe that these things can be achieved
in isolation.

III The Forces of Production
As well as distorting the Marxist concept of the
relations of production, the traditional interpretation
also has an impoverished picture of the productive
forces. It sees the major task of socialist SOCiety
as being to develop the productive forces; but this
task is itself conceived in a one-sided and mechanical
fashion. The productive forces are regarded as
comprising only machinery and techniques, and thus
the development of production is seen solely in
technical and economic te’rms.

However, machinery and techniques must not be seen
in abstraction. A machine requires people to build,
operate and maintain it – only in this context is it a
productive force. In considering the productive
forces of a society, it is therefore vital to recognise
that these comprise not only machinery and techniques, but also people, with the necessary skills
and organisation to operate them. Indeed, as Marx
says, ‘Of all the instruments of production, the
greatest productive power is the revolutionary class
itself’ (Poverty of Philosophy, p151).

The creative initiative and energy of the working
people is the most gigantic productive force. ‘Of all
things in the world, people are the most precious’

said Mao. The traditional account of Marxism is
blind to this, and to the fact that the working people
themselves are a great productive force. It pictures
the productive forces as merely machinery and
techniques, and people as subordinated to them as
their appendages. It is mechanistic and economistic.

However, the development of the productive forces
is not a merely economic and technical matter of
moderniSing the processes of production. It is also,
and equally importantly, a political process of
mobilising and organiSing the energies and creativity of the people.

There is no greater force than the people, united
politically, organised and mobilised. This has been
demonstrated in China’s recent history in remarkable ways, but none more striking than in the phenomenon of ‘people’s war’, whose theory and practice
were pioneered by :Mao and the Chinese Communists
in the 1930s and ’40s. ‘The Atom Bomb is a Paper
Tiger,’ said Mao in 1946,
Of course, the atom bomb is a weapon of mass
slaughter, but the outcome of a war is decided
by the people, not by one or two new types of
weapon. .. Take the case of China. We have
only millet plus rifles to rely on, but history
will finally prove that our millet plus rifles is
more powerful than Chiang Kai-Shek’s aeroplanes plus tanks.

(‘Talk with the American Correspondent Anna
Louise Strong’, ppl01-02)
A::ld so history did prove, only three years later,
with the victory of the Communist forces. More
recently, the victory of the Vietnamese people
against the might of US imperialism has d.emonstra-

ted, even more decisively, that weapons and
military technology are not the sole sources of
military strength. On the contrary, according to
Mao, ‘the richest source of power to wage war lies
in the masses of the people’ (On Protracted War,
p186); and he rejects the theory that ‘weapons
decide everything’ as
a mechanical approach to the question of war and
a subjective and one-sided view. Our view is
opposed to this; we see not only weapons but
also people. Weapons are an important factor in
war, but not the decisive factor; it is people, not
things, that are decisive. The contest of strength
is not only a contest of military and economic
power, but also a contest of human power and
morale. Military and economic power is necessarily wielded by people.

(On Protracted War, p143)
The mechanical approach involves a blind faith in
the intrinsic power of technology. In its account of
the productive forces it puts a one -sided stress on
the aspect of machinery and techniques. However,
in rejecting this, we must again take care to avoid
the equal and opposite errors of voluntarism and
idealism. In emphasising the human factor, and the
role of human initiative and creativity as productive
forces, we must avoid doing so one -sidedly and
making abstractions of them. For, like all human
characteristics and features, initiative and creativity are themselves a product of human productive
activity, which is based ultimately upon certain
machinery and techniques. Without these people
would no longer be people, and their creativity and
initiative would be reduced to a sub-human level.

In this connection, it is important to see that when
Mao says ‘it is people not things that are decisive’,
he is not opposing people to things in an exclusive
fashion – he is not denying or negating the role of
science or technology, for Marxism has nothing in
com.mon with the anti-scientific and anti-technological attitudes which have been so widespread in
recent years; and what the Chinese people accomplished under Mao’s leadership should not be mistaken
for any sort of pre-industrial, rural utopia. On the
contrary, as Engels says in his ‘Speech at the
Graveside of Karl Marx’: ‘Science was for Marx an
historically dynamic, revolutionary force.’ And it
is so, according to Marx, because it leads to the
development of the productive forces, which brings
them into contradiction with the existing relations
of production; as the following, from Wilhelm
Liebknecht’s Reminiscences of Marx, illustrates:

Marx made fun of the victorious European
reaction which imagined that it had stifled the
revolution and did not suspect that natural science
was preparing a new revolution. King Steam,
who had revolutionised the world in the previous
century, was coming to the end of his reign and
another incomparably greater revolutionary
would take his place, the electric spark …

The consequences are unpredictable. The
economic revolution must be followpd by a
political one, for the latter is only the
expression of the former.

(Marx and Engels Th!i>!!KU~e_~es of their
Contemporaries, p51)
Of course these developments also have a negative
side. Marx was perfectly aware that the introduction
of new technology in capitalis m has inhuman and
‘lestructive consequences. Indeed, no one has given
25

a more powerful or lucid description of these than
Marx. However, his attitude to such developments
is by no means merely negative and critical. He
rejects the sort of criticism which sees only the
negative side of things as characteristic of the
utopian socialists who, he says, ‘see in poverty
nothing but poverty, without seeing in it the revolutionary, subversive side, which will overthrow the
old society’ (Poverty of Philosophy, pt 09). So too
with science and technology: to see only the negative
and destructive side of their impact in capitalist
society is one -sided and undialectical. We must
recognise also the positive and revolutionary side
of their role. This is the dialectical approach which,
in Hegel’s words, grasps opposites ‘in their unity’

and ‘the positive in the negative’ (Science of Logic,
p56). Marx’s use of this method is well illustrated
in his remarkable little ‘Speech at the Anniversary
of the People’s Paper’:

In our days everything seems pregnant with its
contrary. Machinery, gifted with the wonderful
power of shortening and fructifying human labour,
we behold starving and overworking it. The newfangled sources of wealth, by some strange weird
spell, are turned into sources of want. The victories of art seem bought by the loss of character.

At the same pace that mankind masters nature,
man seems to become enslaved to other men or
to his own infamy. Even the pure light of science
seems unable to shine but on the dark background
of ignorance. All our invention and progress
seem to result in endowing material forces with
intellectual life, and in stultifying human life
into a material force. This antagonism between
modern industry and science on the one hand,
modern misery and dissolution on the other
hand; this antagonis m between the productive
powers and the social relations of our epoch is a
fact, palpable, overwhelming, and not to be
controverted. SonE parties may wail over it;
others may wish to get rid of modern arts in
order to get rid of modern conflicts. .. On our
part, we do not mistake the shape of the shrewd
spirit that continues to mark all these contradictions. We know that to work well the new-fangled
forces of society, they only want to be mastered
by new-fangled men – and such are the working
men. They are as much the invention of modern
. times as machinery itself. In the signs that
bewilder the middle class, the aristocracy and
the poor prophets of regression, we do recognise our brave friend, Robin Goodfellow, the
old mole that can work in the earth so fast, that
worthy pioneer – the Revolution.

(pp359-60)
The contradiction between the development of the
productive forces and the relations of production
continues in the period of socialism; and it continues
to be a revolutionary one: the motor of history and
the material basis of class struggle. According to
Mao, therefore, the revolutionary struggle must be
continued even after a socialist society has been
established, under the Dictatorship of the
Proletariat; although, of course, the form and
content of this struggle are changed. As Mao says,
Contradictions in a socialist society are
fundamentally different from those in the old
SOCieties, such as capitalist society. In
capitalist society contradictions find expression
in acute antagonis ms and conflicts, in sharp
class struggles; they cannot be resolved by the
26

capitalist system itself and can only be resolved
by socialist revolution. .. The case is different
with contradictions in socialist society, where
they are not antagonistic and can be resolved one
after another by the socialist system itself.

(‘On the Correct Handling of Contradictions
Among the People’, p92)
Contradictions among the people – class and class
struggle – continue throughout the period of socialism and reflect the contradictions in the economic
base between the forces and the relations of production. It is one of Mao’s most important contributions to Marxis m to have developed this theory
for the first time in explicit and clear-cut terms.

References
Bettelheim, c. ~ultural Revolution and Industrial Organisation in China,
Monthly Review Press, 1974
Class Struggles in the USSR: First Period 1917 -23, Monthly Review
Press, 1976
Hegel, G. W. F. Science of LogiC, trans. A. V. Miller, AlIen & Unwin, 1969
Leibknecht, W. Reminiscences of Marx, in Marx and Engels Through the
Eyes of their Contemporaries, Progress, Moscow, 1972
Lenin, V.!. ‘A Great Beginning’ and ‘Left Wing’ Communism, in ~~.cted
Works (one volume), Lawrence & Wishart, 1969.

Mao Zedong (Mao Tsetung). ‘On Contradiction’ and ‘On the Correct Handling
of Contradictions Among the People’, in Four Essays on Philosophy,
Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1966.

On Protracted War (1938), in Selected Works, Vol. 2, FLP, Peking, 1965
‘Talk with the American Correspondent Anna Louise Strong’ (1946),
Selected Works, Vo1.4, FLP, Peking, 1961.

Marx, K. The Poverty of Philosophy, Progress, Moscow, 1966.

Letter to P. V. Annenkov, in Pove~of Philosophy
The Class Struggles in France and ‘Speech at Anniversary of People’s
Paper’ in Selected Works in Two Volumes, Vol. I, FLPH, Moscow, 1958
Preface and Introduction to A Contribution_to the Critique of Political
Economy, FLP, Peking, 1976.

Critique of the Gotha Programme, FLP, Peking, 1976.

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