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Socialism, Freedom, Democracy: Some Issues

While rightly emphasising the indissoluble connection of "democracy" and "freedom" with "socialism", Prabhat Patnaik (November 3, 2007) leaves the meanings of these central concepts unclear.


Socialism, Freedom, Democracy: Some Issues

Paresh Chattopadhyay

sufficiently developed for creating the material conditions for the liberation of the proletariat and building a new society. The “theoreticians of socialism remained only utopians who improvised systems for the need of the oppressed”. But with the

While rightly emphasising the indissoluble connection of “democracy” and “freedom” with “socialism”, Prabhat Patnaik (November 3, 2007) leaves the meanings of these central concepts unclear.

We are grateful to N Krishnaji for his encouragement and stimulating remarks.

Paresh Chattopadhyay (paresh.chattopadhyay teaches political economy at the department of sociology of the University of Quebec, Montreal, Canada.

rabhat Patnaik should be praised for his presentation on ‘Re-Envisioning Socialism’ (November 3, 2007). His emphasis on the indissoluble connection of democracy and freedom with socialism is indeed highly commendable. Most unfortunately, however, the meanings of the central concepts in the paper – “freedom”, “democracy” and “socialism” itself – are not always made very clear nor is the argument always transparent. Here we may be allowed to go into – even if briefly – some of the issues involved. In what follows we leave aside his important critique of capitalism on the question of freedom and democracy to which we have nothing particular to add.

Society beyond Capital

Patnaik opines that Marx’s “case for socialism” was “scientific” in the sense that his argument “took classical political economy as its starting point but came to different conclusions by re-examining the classical questions” and adds that the argument did not entail “placing a capitalist and an imaginary socialist order side by side and establishing a comparative superiority of the latter”. In short, Marx’s argument did not “make out an ethical case for socialism”. This statement is surprising for more than one reason. Leaving aside the ‘‘ethical’’ part we first deal with the ‘‘scientific’’ part of the statement. This alleged peregrination of Marx from classical political economy to scientific socialism – this particular reading of Marx – is very unusual and Patnaik has not given any textual evidence to support this affirmation. Indeed we have not seen in any published text of Marx any such proposition.1 In fact ‘‘scientific’’ socialism was posited expressly against ‘‘utopian’’ socialism by Marx and Engels. Socialism was first mooted as the society beyond capital at a time when neither the proletariat nor the productive power of society was march of history and greater clarity of the proletarian struggle along with it “they have no need to look for the science in their mind, they have only to take account of what is happening before their eyes. From that moment on the science produced by historical movement has ceased to be doctrinaire and has become revolutionary” [Marx 1965:92-93].2

Years later Marx comes back to the theme: “The utopian founders of sects while in their criticism of present society clearly describing the goal of the social movement – the supersession of the wages system with all its economical conditions of class rule – found neither in society itself the material conditions of its transformation nor in the working class the organised power and the conscience of the movement. From the moment the working class movement became real the fantastic utopias evanesced…In their place came a real insight into the historical conditions of the movement” (1971:166). Some years later Engels used the term “scientific” for socialism – as opposed to “utopian” – in his well known popular brochure (originally in French, 1880) in basically the same sense as Marx. And, crowning it all, Marx in his ‘‘Preface’’ (written in French, 1880) to this brochure called it Introduction to Scientific Socialism.

In this brochure Engels, referring to socialism’s early period with feeble development of the capitalist mode of production and corresponding immaturity of the situation of the working class giving rise to utopian socialism, observed that “to make socialism scientific it had first to be placed on a real foundation” – that is, developed productive forces and a developed working class reaching a developed stage of class struggle under capitalism. Socialism’s transformation into science with utopian socialism as its point of departure is immediately seen in the title of the German version of the brochure: Development of Socialism from Utopia to Science (1883).

January 12, 2008 Economic & Political Weekly


Nowhere in the discussion of either Marx or of Engels on this question is there any reference to classical political economy.

Ethical Considerations

Now the “ethical” part of Patnaik’s statement. He alleges that Marx’s argument for socialism did not entail comparison between capitalist and “an imaginary socialist order”. In fact Marx had a vision for a new society. Socialism did not exist in Marx’s time (and has never existed till today). Hence it could exist only in imagination. Marx and Engels were also visionaries no less than their great utopian predecessors in this regard although the material (and subjective) conditions of realising this vision did not exist when the utopians were envisioning the new society, as we discussed above. It should be stressed that Marx’s vision was not pure imagination. It itself arose as a reaction to the very real material conditions of the existing society. As the Manifesto (1848) famously declares: “The theoretical conceptions of the communists only express the real conditions of a class struggle which exist, of a historical movement which is going on before our eyes”. In fact in the citation from Marx’s Anti-Proudhon given above, Marx speaks specifically of socialism as “science produced by the historical movement”.

As regards the question of comparison on ethical grounds, capitalism and (the not yet existing) socialism, let us first note the simple thing that the condemnation of the hypocrisy of the established morality like the denunciation of a social order (such as capitalism) – as Marx was doing

– has sense only with reference (implicit or explicit) to an order of values which offers simultaneously the criterion of refusal and the norms of adhesion and that the negation of the bourgeois morality supposes the affirmation of socialist ethics.3 Indeed Marx did compare the two societies on human that is ethical considerations (pace Althusser). Thus in his excerpt note books (1844) he wrote: “So long as the human being does not recognise her/himself as human being and therefore has not organised the world humanly the community will have the form of alienation. The society of this alienated individual is the caricature of her (his) true

Economic & Political Weekly January 12, 2008

community” [Marx 1932: 536 emphasis in original]. In the same (1843-44] period he wrote: “The human is the supreme being for the human. Therefore, it is a categorical imperative to overthrow all the relations in which the human is a degraded, servile, abandoned, and contemptible being” (Marx 1978: 24: emphasis in text). Shortly thereafter (1845-46) Marx compared (actually contrasted) the hitherto existing “apparent community” (scheinbare Gemeinschaft) to the “real community” (wirkliche Gemeinschaft) in which the individuals attain their freedom in and through their “Association” (Marx 1973:74). In his justly famous “Preface” to Contribution (1859) when Marx speaks of the whole of the human epoch including capitalism as the “prehistory of the human society” that is, compared to the real human history beginning with the “union of free individuals” (socialism) – in the words of capital – is he not making a value loaded ethical statement of comparison of humanity’s inhuman past to its human (socialist) future? In his Inaugural Address to the International (1864), where Marx was speaking of “slave labour (and) hired labour as transitory and inferior forms destined to disappear before associated labour, playing its toil with a willing hand, a ready mind and a joyous heart” (our emphasis), was he not making, again, a value loaded ethical statement comparing the labour in humanity’s “prehistory” with that in humanity’s real history, labourer “as a beast of burden” (1861-63) in the past with the free and associated labourer in socialism? Again, when Marx in his Civil War in France (1871) was referring to “that higher form to which the present form of society is irresistibly tending” (our emphasis), is he not precisely making an ethical case for a nobler and a truly human society compared to a sordid “prehistory of human society”? Likewise In Capital Vol 1 Marx speaks of a “higher social form whose basic principle is the free development of each individual” (1987:543).

Meaning of Socialism

It is rather curious that while the whole paper is about socialism, nowhere we find a clear meaning of the term “socialism” as if the meaning is evident. However, one gets an idea of the author’s meaning from his discussion of “old socialism”. Obviously for him the latter was socialism though with serious shortcoming(s) for not having been “authentically democratic”. From his discussion we learn that “state ownership of the means of production” (associated with “national planning”) is necessary for socialism but this is not enough, there has to be also “authentic democracy”. If we abstract from the latter

– that is, the “superstructural” element of the socialist society – we find that Patnaik’s idea of the core of socialism is the same as that of the upholders of “old socialism”. That is, state ownership of the means of production remains as necessary for the “re-envisioned” socialism as it was for the “old socialism”. This juridical approach to socialism – abstracting from question of the specificity of the relations of production of the new society – Patnaik seems to share with the “old socialists”.4 The Bolsheviks always claimed that state ownership under their rule was social ownership. This claim seems not to be questioned by Patnaik. But to what extent could one accept the “supposition” (as Patnaik puts it) that “state ownership” in “old socialism” expressed “social ownership”? In other words does state ownership in socialism stand for social ownership?

Let us immediately say that in Marx’s framework of socialism these two are in opposition. Ownership of the means of production in this framework is necessarily social ownership but there is no state ownership here for the simple reason that there is no state after the disappearance of classes which is what socialism within this framework is. In the Communist Manifesto (Section 2) after the proletariat has conquered power, the means of production are taken over by the proletarian state, “proletariat organised as the ruling class”. But the Manifesto does not consider this as “social ownership”. Only with the disappearance of classes including the proletariat itself with its dictatorship “all production is concentrated in the hands of the associated individuals” (our emphasis). The Moscow translation deforms this sentence by bringing in a “national dimension)”.5 This means that with the beginning of the “Association” (socialism) state


has ceased to exist. One year earlier Marx had conveyed the same message in his ‘Anti-Proudhon’ (1965:136). Marx always considered state to be an enemy of freedom of the individual. Earlier, in his anti-Ruge article (1844), Marx wrote, “Even the radical and revolutionary politicians seek the cause of evil not in the nature of the state, but in a specific form of the state which they want to replace by another form of state…The existence of state and the existence of servitude are inseparable” (1976:401-2). Years later Marx would be thrilled to re-discover in the practice (Patnaik’s “praxis”) of the Paris Commune (1871) what he wrote here (theoretically). Thus he wrote in the “First Outline” of his Civil War in France: “This was a Revolution not against this or that form of state power. It was a Revolution against the State itself” (1971:152; emphasis in original). We thus see that from Marx’s emancipatory perspective there could not be any “state which would be an association of workers” (Patnaik) if by this “association” is meant a free association. It is interesting to note here what the doyen of labour economics of Russia’s “old socialism” E Manevich wrote about state ownership (when people of Russia could at last relatively freely express themselves under Gorbachev’s reforms). According to him, state ownership of means of production was “neither public nor socialist”. “Surplus labour and the corresponding surplus value belonged not at all either to the people or to those who generated them. Profit was appropriated by the state” [Manevich 1991:139].


Patnaik writes that as “political praxis of the people is limited by a lack of understanding of the conjuncture, the role of the revolutionary party is to provide this understanding”. Leaving aside the vagueness of the term “people”, Patnaik’s position is of course a rehash – in a relatively toned down and generalised form (from proletariat to “people”) – of Lenin’s well known idea of revolutionary party, a group of “professional revolutionaries” whose role is to bring revolutionary consciousness (Patnaik’s “understanding”) to the workers who allegedly on their own cannot acquire it. It should be clear that this position immediately contradicts proletariat’s self-emancipation. Is not the proletariat itself the “revolutionary class” as Marx repeatedly emphasises? Moreover, is not the proletariat’s own “profession (calling, mission)” (Beruf) to “revolutionise the capitalist mode of production” as we read in Marx’s “Afterword” (1873) to Capital? Then why should the working class require a party to bring it from outside the “understanding” of the “conjuncture”? Who brought the communards (1871) this “understanding”? Who brought this to Russia’s labouring people when they initiated the immense revolutionary process in February 1917, independently of any “revolutionary party”?

Paraphrasing Rosa Luxemburg’s justly famous words, the proletariat does not require “school masters”. It is because “in the proletariat the human has lost her (his) self but at the same time has acquired the theoretical consciousness of this loss and feels compelled to revolt against this inhumanity, the proletariat can and must liberate itself” wrote Marx and Engels in 1845 (1972:38; our emphasis). One year later they wrote: “It is the proletariat from which emanates the consciousness of necessity of a fundamental revolution, the communist consciousness” (1973: 69; emphasis added). As Marx wrote in a letter to his friend J B Schweitzer (February 13, 1865): “The working class is either revolutionary or it is nothing”.

In the same vein Engels wrote in his “Preface” to the fourth edition of the Manifesto (1890): “For the final victory of the propositions of the Communist Manifesto Marx counted solely and uniquely (einzig und allein) on the intellectual development of the working class as it necessarily had to emanate from the united action and discussion” (1972:57; emphasis added). No reference to party anywhere as the carrier of “understanding” to the “people”. That is precisely because this self-assigned role of the party would completely negate workers’ self-emancipation. The absence of any reference to workers’ selfemancipation (“The emancipation of the working class is the task of the workers themselves” as Marx reminded the international) in Patnaik’s paper for

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    “re-envisioning socialism” is striking and quite consistent with his (quasi-Leninist) position on the “revolutionary party”. Indeed, whatever their other faults the Bolsheviks could never be accused of upholding and championing Marx’s (self) emancipatory message.

    Similarly noticeable in the paper is the absence of any mention of the question of women’s emancipation and their role in workers’ revolution for socialism. We could remind ourselves that Marx was preoccupied with it from 1844 (Parisian manuscripts) right up to early 1880s (Ethnological Notebooks). He wrote to Kugelmann, “anyone who knows something about history also knows that great social revolutions (Umwälzungen) are impossible without the feminine ferment” (December 12, 1868).

    Democracy at Large

    Upholding Lenin’s adherence to “democratic centralism” Patnaik seems to be setting up Lenin’s democratism in opposition to what ensued in the following period. This is correct in relation to communists (in the Bolshevik sense). How about democracy at large, particularly as regards the left dissidents outside of and not necessarily friendly to the party? Victor Serge noted in his Mémoires that “right from 1919 the Bolsheviks started to deny all dissidents of the revolution the right of political existence” (2001:832). E H Carr, in his turn, writes that “after the summer of 1918 other political parties existed only on suffrance…and from 1921 onwards they virtually disappeared” (1964:186). This happened of course under Lenin’s watch. A climax was reached with the dissident sailors-toilers of Kronstadt (1921). These labouring people realised earlier than the rest of Russia’s labourers that the Bolsheviks had renounced all the promises they had made to the workers before and during October and had instituted an anti-worker regime. They demanded, besides new elections by secret ballot, freedom of speech, press and assembly, release of political prisoners belonging to socialist parties as well as the workers and peasants involved in mass popular movements. In course of their movement their raised the central slogan: “all power to the Soviets, not to parties”! The regime

    Economic & Political Weekly January 12, 2008

    crushed them by falsely accusing them of being at the service of the Whites (even though Lenin had admitted at the 10th congress of the party that the “Kronstadters do not want the White Guards and they do not want our power either”) massacring thousands in the process. Thus ended a “bustling, selfgoverning, egalitarian and highly politicised soviet democracy the like of which has not been seen in Europe since the days of the Paris Commune” (Getzler 1983:247; see also Serge 2001, pp 603-09). And under Lenin’s watch.

    Let us conclude Patnaik’s vision of socialism with “human freedom”, not much discussed in India, is noble and it is laudable. However, it is unfortunately affected by a number of limitations. His notion of socialism as such does not cross the bounds of the tradition of “old socialism” (leaving aside the superstructural element of “authentic democracy”), that is, narrowly conceived as a specific juridical form – state ownership of means of production. One will have no idea about what kind of mode of production, what type of social relations of production – the very foundation of a social formation – this socialism embodies. On the other hand “state ownership” totally negates the emancipatory character of the new society. There could be no freedom of the human individual under a state, even a democratic state. Already the “dictatorship of the proletariat” preceding socialism (communism) Engels had conceived as a state “not in the usual sense of the term”. “Human freedom” – necessarily mediated by workers’ selfemancipation (of which not a word in the paper) – could prevail only in socialism conceived uniquely as a “union of free individuals” based on “associated mode of production” with social appropriation of the conditions of production without class, state, private property (individual or class), commodity production (market), wage labour. Socialism is either a free association of individuals or it is nothing.

    Again, the (revolutionary) party conceived as the educator of the labouring people by carrying “understanding” or consciousness to them contradicts labourers’ self-emancipation through their gaining “understanding of the conjuncture” on their own from their own real movement without the need of any “school master”. And what if the party’s understanding is wrong? What if it turns out to be another Bolshevik party? And who educates the educator (to paraphrase Marx’s third thesis on Feuerbach)? This “revolutionary party”, apparatus of domination, is very different from the communist party envisaged by the Manifesto – a product of the workers’ “autonomous movement of the immense majority in the interest of the immense majority” – an instrument of liberation.

    We may be allowed to end this piece by invoking the Internationale: “There is no supreme saviour, no god, no Ceaser, no tribune. Workers! We are our own saviours”!


    1 “Political economy” helped Marx understand the “anatomy of the civil (bourgeois) society” (Marx 1859,1980:100).

    2 See the Communist Manifesto for the same idea. 3 See Maximilien Rubel’s masterly “Introduction” to Marx (1982). 4 “The relations of production form the real basis of society upon which is erected the juridical and political edifice” (Marx:1859,1980:100). 5 See Marx 1970:53.


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    Getzler, Israel (1983): Kronstsdt (1917-1921) the Fate of a Soviet Democracy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

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