NEWS & LETTERS, June -July 2007

From the Writings of Raya Dunayevskaya

Uprooting capitalism's law of value II


As part of our ongoing discussions on what is required to uproot the capitalist law of value, we print the second part of the excerpts from Raya Dunayevskaya’s 1948 essay, "Stalinists Falsify Marxism Anew." It originally appeared in FOURTH INTERNATIONAL, September 1948. The first part of the essay appeared in our April-May issue. Footnotes are by the editors, except where indicated by "RD." Both have been edited for print. For the original, see THE RAYA DUNAYEVSKAYA COLLECTION, 1311-1316.

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Part II

In his attempt to lift the theory of value out of its capitalist context and transform it into a "universal theory of value" A. Leontiev at one and the same time asserts that the law of value functions "under socialism" and also that it functioned in pre-capitalist societies. A basis for this is laid by Leontiev not only in his article, "Some Questions of Teaching Political Economy," but also in his pamphlet, MARX'S 'CAPITAL,' where he tries to prove "the historical emergence of value in deep antiquity." The authorship of this new theory Leontiev modestly ascribes to Engels.

In the book, ENGELS ON CAPITAL, published in 1937, there is a little essay in which Engels develops a statement of Marx. This is to the effect that the lower the stage of civilization the closer do prices approximate values, the higher the stage, the more indirect the approximation.(1) In that limited sense(2) of the relationship of value to price, Engels shows how effectively the law of value functioned in the pre-capitalist period. Leontiev is suddenly full of praise for Engels: "Engels’ article on law of value and rate of profit, besides being an important supplement to the third volume of [Marx's]  CAPITAL, is of great value for the understanding of the economic theory of Marxism as a whole."

This "Marxism as a whole" the Leontiev of the pre-1943 vintage interpreted very differently, and precisely in his own introduction to this same essay of Engels: "Whereas at the hands of the Social-Democratic theoreticians of the epoch of the Second International, the categories of value, money, surplus value, etc., have a fatal tendency to become transformed into disembodied abstractions inhabiting the sphere of exchange and far removed from the conditions of the revolutionary struggles of the proletariat, Engels shows the most intimate, indissoluble connection these categories have with the relation between classes in the process of material production, with the aggravation of class contradictions, with the inevitability of the proletarian revolution."

Now the Stalinists were not the first to try to extend the operation of the law of value to "the socialist state of Marx." The bourgeois economist, Adolph Wagner, tried to do the same thing in 1883. In no uncertain terms Marx castigated "the presupposition that the theory of value developed for the explanation of bourgeois society, has validity for the ‘socialist state of Marx’." Marx reiterated:  "...in the analysis of value I had in view bourgeois relations and not the application of this theory of value to a ‘socialist state’."(3)

This is the last writing we have from Marx’s pen. Engels continued Marx’s work, criticizing the then-Marxist disciple Kautsky for treating value in a "Kantian manner":

"Value is a category characteristic only of commodity production, and just as it did not exist prior to commodity production, so it will disappear with the abolition of commodity production."

Precisely. No one could possibly attribute to Engels a view on value other than that held by Marx. In ANTI-DUHRING, written in collaboration with Marx, Engels argued that it would be sheer absurdity "to set up a society in which at last the producers control their products by the logical application of an economic category (value) which is the most comprehensive expression of the subjection of the producers by their own product."(4)

The whole elaborate structure that the Stalinist henchman tries to erect crumbles under the impact of the heavy blows Marx and Engels dealt in their own day to all other theories of value.

"Of course it would be an absurd and scholastic approach," Leontiev states suddenly, "to presume that Marx and Engels could foresee and foretell the concrete, practical way to employ the law of value in the interests of socialism." It could have been foreseen "NEITHER BY MARX NOR EVEN BY LENIN" (my emphasis). Only "the genius of Stalin," continues the Stalinist hireling, could work out the application of the law of value to a "socialist society."

This, we are told bombastically, opens a new state of "Marxist-Leninist economics": "The assertions of Stalin on the fate of economic categories of capitalism under conditions of socialist society and theoretic generalizations from the magnificent experience of socialist construction in the USSR and signify a new stage in development of the science of Marxist-Leninist economics. These statements are among the most important principles of the political economy of socialism created by Comrade Stalin."

The only truth in this statement is that "the political economy of socialism" is wholly an invention of Stalin and his corrupt henchmen.


Not the niceties of pedagogy but the pressing needs of the Soviet economy made necessary the revision of the law of value in the Marxist sense. Not by accident the crowning achievement of this revision came with the promulgation of the Fourth Five-Year Plan, which was openly based on "the use of the law of value."

To "make use of the law of value" meant the conscious subordination to the force of this law. How seriously this task was executed by the Soviet intelligentsia can be seen from a lecture on "The Time Factor in the Matter of Capital Investment" that Academician Strumilin delivered to the learned council of the Institute of Economics of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR.

If "a high ratio of socialist accumulation" is to be achieved, states Strumilin, it will be necessary to consider not merely "prime cost" but "full cost": "In order to change from "prime cost" to full cost of the projected articles and their production, it is necessary therefore first of all to add to the paid share of labor that of its share which is reserved as a matter of planned accumulation" (BULLETIN OF THE INSTITUTE OF ECONOMICS, No. 3, 1946).

With this as a basis, Strumilin proceeds to calculate the relationship of dead to living labor, of capital investment to rate of profit, thus achieving statistical measurement for calculating the rate of "socialist accumulation" which could be the envy of any bourgeois economist.

Ever since the outbreak of World War II the Kremlin bureaucracy has tried to raise per capita production through the institution of what it has dared call "socialist emulation." This new competition between factories has supplemented Stakhanovism, or competition between individual workers. The totalitarian bureaucracy is attempting to make the maximum speed of production of an individual Stakhanovite into the norm for all workers, factory by factory.

This has only deepened the conflict between the Stalinist regime and the Russian masses. The need arose for a new ideology to discipline the Russian proletariat. The attempt to undermine and falsify every tenet of Marxism was the result.

The new phase of falsifications gained a momentum of its own and could not stop half-way. The very logic of the break with the structure of [Marx's] CAPITAL compelled the falsification of its content as well. The next inevitable stage was to distort the significance of Marx’s immortal work. It was no longer to be considered the basic work of Marxism, but only of Marx; here "the historical principle" was applied to show that CAPITAL was the greatest work ["]UP TO Lenin and Stalin"...

Once the Stalinist bureaucracy laid its brutal hands on CAPITAL, it of necessity had to intensify its falsifications of dialectical materialism itself.

If a "revision" of Marxist analysis of the law of value was made imperative by the functioning of the Soviet "socialist" economy, the arbitrariness of bureaucratic planning demanded as imperatively the discovery of a "new dialectical law." There was no way out of the impasse except through the endowment of "criticism and self-criticism" with supernatural powers.

This was the compelling reason why the Secretary of the Central Committee donned the mantle of philosopher, and no Soviet philosopher missed the significance of Andrei Zhdanov’s appearance at their conference in June 1947.


Zhdanov spoke with the authority of the Politburo when he assigned the "philosophic workers" their new task. This consisted in asking them to find nothing less miraculous than "a new dialectical law," one that was "free of antagonisms."

The key passage in Zhdanov’s speech is worth quoting in full: "In our Soviet society where antagonistic classes have been liquidated, the struggle between the old and the new, consequently, the development from the lower to the higher, takes place, not in the form of a struggle of antagonistic classes and cataclysms, as it does under capitalism, but in the form of criticism and self-criticism, which is the genuine motive force of our development, the powerful instrument in the hands of the party. This is without doubt a new form of movement, a new type of development, a new dialectical law" (QUESTIONS OF PHILOSOPHY, No. 1, 1947; also in BOLSHEVIK, No. 16, Aug. 30, 1947. English translation is available in the April 1948 issue of POLITICAL AFFAIRS).

With the demand for a theory of value that was not at the same time a theory of surplus value, the Stalinists tried to divest the labor theory of value of its class content. With the demand for a new dialectical law free of contradictions, they seek to make not the masses, but the totalitarian bureaucracy ("the critics"), the driving force of history.

Idealism has thus been enthroned in the Kremlin and scientific socialism reduced to the petty-bourgeois socialism of a Proudhon.

Perhaps the best way to describe the vulgar thinking of the Stalinist bureaucracy is to quote what Marx said of Proudhon’s way of thinking a full century ago:

"In place of the great historic movement arising from the conflict between the productive forces already acquired by men and their social relations, which no longer correspond to these productive forces...in place of practical and violent action of the masses by which alone these conflicts can be resolved--in place of this vast prolonged and complicated movement, Monsieur Proudhon supplies the evacuating motion of his own head."(5)


The destruction of the warp and woof of historical materialism was made necessary by the very depth of the Soviet crisis. At the very time of Zhdanov’s appearance among the learned philosophers, there was published in the Soviet Union a new book by the Chairman of the State Planning Commission, Voznessensky, entitled THE WAR ECONOMY OF THE USSR DURING THE PERIOD OF THE PATRIOTIC WAR.

This work is not merely a description of the Soviet war economy, but it is the legal code promulgated by the Stalinist bureaucracy for the development of the post-war economy. It is at the same time an unconscious admission that the bureaucracy has failed to raise the productivity of labor to the level needed "to catch up with" capitalism, let alone achieve the transition to "communism."

The bureaucracy is attempting to resolve the deepening contradictions of the Soviet economy in its usual manner--through bureaucratic stifling of mass initiative. But this is a double-edged sword.

It is true that it is two decades now since the Russian workers have had any control over the Plan. But while this has increased the bureaucracy’s stranglehold of the worker, it has also deprived the bureaucracy of any of the practical experience of the workers at the point of production.

The Plan has long been executed without the benefit of the old Workers Conflict Commission, abolished in 1940, but in recent times all previous limits of arbitrariness have been surpassed. The top Planning Commission sets up the plan, and the workers have nothing to do but follow orders. But the complete divorce between the masses and Stalinist state represented by this stage of bureaucratic planning means also the complete loss of objectivity for the planners, and the Soviet economy keeps staggering from one crisis to another.

At the same time purges continue in every sphere:  economic, political, philosophic, literary, scientific, pedagogic and artistic.

The cycle of falsification begun in 1943 has reached its culminating point. Marx used to say of classical political economy: for it there was history, but there is no history any longer. Of the Soviet bureaucracy it may be said:  for it there once was revolution, but now there is only "criticism and self-criticism." This criticism and self-criticism manifest themselves as purges, more purges, and still more purges. In this sense, the theoretical thinking of the Stalinist bureaucracy has been reduced to what Trotsky once called "the empiricism of a machine gun."


1. See ENGELS ON ‘CAPITAL’ (New York: International Publishers, 1937), p. 106.

2. And only in that limited sense since Marx had been most explicit in his expose of Adam Smith’s error in considering that the law of value functioned "purest" under simple commodity production. Adam Smith fell into this error, explains Marx, "because he had abstracted [the law of value] from capitalistic production and precisely because of this it appears as if it were invalid" (THEORIES OF SURPLUS VALUE).--RD

3. Marx-Engels COLLECTED WORKS, Vol. 24 (New York: International Publishers, 1989), pp. 536-37.

4. Marx-Engels COLLECTED WORKS, Vol. 25, p. 296.

5. Marx-Engels COLLECTED WORKS, Vol. 38, p. 103.

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