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excerpt from Trotsky

From Leon Trotsky (1879-1940), Results and Prospects (1906), VII. The Pre-Requisites of Socialism:

"Undoubtedly, the concentration of production, the development of technique and the growth of consciousness among the masses are essential pre-requisites for socialism. But these processes take place simultaneously, and not only give an impetus to each other, but also retard and limit each other. Each of these processes at a higher level demands a certain development of another process at a lower level. But the complete development of each of them is incompatible with the complete development of the others.

"The development of technique undoubtedly finds its ideal limit in a single automatic mechanism which takes raw materials from the womb of nature and throws them at the feet of man in the form of finished articles of consumption. If the existence of the capitalist system were not limited by class relations and the revolutionary struggle that arises from them, we should have some grounds for supposing that technique, approaching the ideal of a single automatic mechanism within the framework of the capitalist system, would thereby automatically abolish capitalism.

"The concentration of production arising from the laws of competition inherently tends towards proletarianizing the whole population. Isolating this tendency, we should be right in supposing that capitalism would carry out its work to the end, if the process of proletarianization were not interrupted by a revolution; but this is inevitable, given a certain relationship of forces, long before capitalism has converted the majority of the nation into a reserve army, confined to prison-like barracks.

"Further -- consciousness, thanks to the experience of the everyday struggle and the conscious efforts of the socialist parties, undoubtedly grows progressively, and, isolating this process, we could in imagination follow this growth until the majority of the people were included in the trade unions and political organizations, united by a spirit of solidarity and singleness of aim. If this process could really increase quantitatively without being affected qualitatively, socialism could be realized peaceably by a unanimous, conscious 'civil act' some time in the 21st or the 22nd century.

"But the whole point lies in the fact that the processes which are historically pre-requisite for socialism do not develop in isolation, but limit each other, and, reaching a certain stage, determined by numerous circumstances -- which, however, is far removed from the mathematical limit of these processes -- they undergo a qualitative change, and in their complex combination bring about what we understand by the name of social revolution.

"We will begin with the last-mentioned process -- the growth of consciousness. This takes place, as we know, not in academies, in which it might be possible artificially to detain the proletariat for fifty, a hundred or five hundred years, but in the course of all-round life in capitalist society, on the basis of unceasing class struggle. The growth of the consciousness of the proletariat transforms this class struggle, gives it a deeper and more purposeful character, which in its turn calls out a corresponding reaction on the part of the dominant class. The struggle of the proletariat against the bourgeoisie will reach its denouement long before large-scale enterprises begin to dominate in all branches of industry.

"Further, it is of course true that the growth of political consciousness depends upon the growth of the numbers of the proletariat, and proletarian dictatorship presupposes that the numbers of the proletariat will be sufficiently large to overcome the resistance of the bourgeois counter-revolution. But this does not at all mean that the 'overwhelming majority of the population must be proletarians and the 'overwhelming majority' of the proletariat conscious socialists. It is clear, of course, that the conscious revolutionary army of the proletariat must be stronger than the counter-revolutionary army of capital, while the intermediate, doubtful or indifferent strata of the population must be in such a position that the regime of proletarian dictatorship will attract them to the side of the revolution and not repel them to the side of its enemies. Naturally, proletarian policy must consciously take this into consideration. . . .

"Socialism is not merely a question of equal distribution but also a question of planned production. Socialism, that is, co-operative production on a large scale, is possible only when the development of productive forces has reached the stage at which large enterprises are more productive than small ones. The more the large enterprises outweigh the smaller, i.e., the more developed technique has become, the more advantageous economically does socialized production become, and, consequently, the higher must the cultural level of the whole population be as a result of equal distribution based upon planned production.

"This first objective pre-requisite of socialism has been in existence a long time -- ever since the time when social division of labour led to the division of labour in manufacture. It has existed to an even greater extent since the time when manufacture was replaced by factory, machine production. Large undertakings became more and more advantageous, which also meant that the socialization of these large undertakings would have made society more and more wealthy. . . .

"What level must social differentiation have attained in order that the second pre-requisite for socialism may be realized? In other words, what must be the relative numerical weight of the proletariat? Must it make up a half, two-thirds or nine-tenths of the population? It would be an absolutely hopeless undertaking to try to define the bare arithmetical limits of this second prerequisite for socialism. In the first place, in such a schematic effort, we should have to decide the question of who is to be included in the category 'proletariat'. Should we include the large class of semi-proletarian semi-peasants? Should we include the reserve masses of the urban proletariat -- who on the one hand merge into the parasitical proletariat of beggars and thieves, and on the other fill the city streets as small traders playing a parasitical role in relation to the economic system as a whole? This question is not at all a simple one.

"The importance of the proletariat depends entirely on the role it plays in large-scale production. The bourgeoisie relies, in its struggle for political domination, upon its economic power. Before it manages to secure political power, it concentrates the country’s means of production in its own hands. This is what determines its specific weight in society. The proletariat, however, in spite of all co-operative phantasmagoria, will be deprived of the means of production right up to the actual socialist revolution. Its social power comes from the fact that the means of production which are in the hands of the bourgeoisie can be set in motion only by the proletariat. From the point of view of the bourgeoisie, the proletariat is also one of the means of production, constituting, in conjunction with the others, a single unified mechanism. The proletariat, however, is the only non-automatic part of this mechanism, and in spite of all efforts it cannot be reduced to the condition of an automaton. . . .

"Now we come to the third pre-requisite of socialism, the dictatorship of the proletariat. Politics is the plane upon which the objective pre-requisites of socialism are intersected by the subjective ones. Under certain definite social-economic conditions, a class consciously sets itself a certain aim -- the conquest of political power; it unites its forces, weighs up the strength of the enemy and estimates the situation. Even in this third sphere, however, the proletariat is not absolutely free. Besides the subjective factors -- consciousness, preparedness and initiative, the development of which also have their own logic -- the proletariat in carrying out its policy comes up against a number of objective factors such as the policy of the ruling classes and the existing State institutions (such as the army, the class schools, the State church), international relations, etc.

"We will deal first of all with the subjective conditions: the preparedness of the proletariat for a socialist revolution. It is, of course, not sufficient that the standard of technique has rendered socialist economy advantageous from the point of view of the productivity of social labour. It is not sufficient, either, that the social differentiation based on this technique has created a proletariat which is the main class by virtue of its numbers and its economic role, and which is objectively interested in socialism. It is further necessary that this class should be conscious of its objective interests; it is necessary that it should understand that there is no way out for it except through socialism; it is necessary that it should combine in an army sufficiently powerful to conquer political power in open battle. . . .

"But many socialist ideologues (ideologues in the bad sense of the word -- those who stand everything on its head) speak of preparing the proletariat for socialism in the sense of its being morally regenerated. The proletariat, and even 'humanity' in general, must first of all cast out its old egoistical nature, and altruism must become predominant in social life, etc. As we are as yet far from such a state of affairs, and 'human nature' changes very slowly, socialism is put off for several centuries. Such a point of view probably seems very realistic and evolutionary, and so forth, but as a matter of fact it is really nothing but shallow moralizing.

"It is assumed that a socialist psychology must be developed before the coming of socialism, in other words that it is possible for the masses to acquire a socialist psychology under capitalism. One must not confuse here the conscious striving towards socialism with socialist psychology. The latter presupposes the absence of egotistical motives in economic life; whereas the striving towards socialism and the struggle for it arise from the class psychology of the proletariat. However many points of contact there may be between the class psychology of the proletariat and classless socialist psychology, nevertheless a deep chasm divides them.

"The joint struggle against exploitation engenders splendid shoots of idealism, comradely solidarity and self-sacrifice, but at the same time the individual struggle for existence, the ever-yawning abyss of poverty, the differentiation in the ranks of the workers themselves, the pressure of the ignorant masses from below, and the corrupting influence of the bourgeois parties do not permit these splendid shoots to develop fully. For all that, in spite of his remaining philistinely egoistic, and without his exceeding in 'human' worth the average representative of the bourgeois classes, the average worker knows from experience that his simplest requirements and natural desires can be satisfied only on the ruins of the capitalist system. . . .

"If socialism aimed at creating a new human nature within the limits of the old society it would be nothing more than a new edition of the moralistic utopias. Socialism does not aim at creating a socialist psychology as a pre-requisite to socialism but at creating socialist conditions of life as a pre-requisite to socialist psychology."