Alternatives to capitalism: Nikolai Bukharin on the division of labour

A favourite brought forward.

Thinking about the pressures on capitalism — or rather, on the interventionism that passes for capitalism today — and on the alternative which was most comprehensively implemented, I discovered this recipe for chaos and failure from Bukharin:

Under communism people receive a many-sided culture, and find themselves at home in various branches of production: today I work in an administrative capacity, I reckon up how many felt boots or how many French rolls must be produced in the following month; tomorrow I shall be working in a soap factory, next month perhaps in a steam-laundry, and the month after in an electric power station. This will be possible when all the members of society have been suitably educated.

via Nikolai Bukharin and Evgenii Preobrazhensky: The ABC of Communism – Chapter III : Communism and the Dictatorship of the Proletariat.

As one who has not long studied Marxism, it is frankly amazing that Bukharin was hailed by Lenin as “a most valuable and major theorist of the Party” when he wrote such impractical nonsense. Here’s another taste of his particular madness, expounding on what we know as “from each according to his ability to each according to his work” and “from each according to his ability to each according to his needs”:

The communist method of production presupposes in addition that production is not for the market, but for use. Under communism, it is no longer the individual manufacturer or the individual peasant who produces; the work of production is effected by the gigantic cooperative as a whole. In consequence of this change, we no longer have commodities, but only products. These products are not exchanged one for another; they are neither bought nor sold. They are simply stored in the communal warehouses, and are subsequently delivered to those who need them. In such conditions, money will no longer be required. ‘How can that be?’ some of you will ask. ‘In that case one person will get too much and another too little. What sense is there in such a method of distribution?’ The answer is as follows. At first, doubtless, and perhaps for twenty or thirty years, it will be necessary to have various regulations. Maybe certain products will only be supplied to those persons who have a special entry in their work-book or on their work-card. Subsequently, when communist society has been consolidated and fully developed, no such regulations will be needed. There will be an ample quantity of all products, our present wounds will long since have been healed, and everyone will be able to get just as much as he needs. ‘But will not people find it to their interest to take more than they need?’ Certainly not. Today, for example, no one thinks it worth while when he wants one seat in a tram, to take three tickets and keep two places empty. It will be just the same in the case of all products. A person will take from the communal storehouse precisely as much as he needs, no more. No one will have any interest in taking more than he wants in order to sell the surplus to others, since all these others can satisfy their needs whenever they please. Money will then have no value. Our meaning is that at the outset, in the first days of communist society, products will probably be distributed in accordance with the amount of work done by the applicant; at a later stage, however, they will simply be supplied according to the needs of the comrades.

Where to begin a critique? “The applicant” for products? I think perhaps we should bear in mind the madness of this system when we lament our present circumstances.  We should remember that even in Bukharin’s peculiar dreams, repression was essential:

For a long time yet, the working class will have to fight against, all its enemies, and in especial against the relics of the past, such as sloth, slackness, criminality, pride. All these will have to be stamped out. Two or three generations of persons will have to grow up under the new conditions before the need will pass for laws and punishments and for the use of repressive measures by the workers’ State.

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Comments & Responses

One Response so far.

  1. Lola says:

    Depressing isn’t it? And yet we can see its progeny accross the channel, in Brussells.