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“No More Distinctions Between Yours and Mine”: The Disappearance of the Family

Domenico Losurdo

Translated using the Portuguese edition of the book, often consulting the Spanish edition, not the original Italian edition.

Translated by David Ferreira

“No More Distinctions Between Yours and Mine”: The Disappearance of the Family 

Along with imperialism and capitalism, the October Revolution was called upon to put an end to the oppression of women. To make possible their equal participation in social and political life, it was necessary to liberate them by developing social services as much as possible, by freeing them from domestic reclusion and a division of labor that humiliated and hampered them; the criticism of traditional morality and its duplicity would then guarantee sexual emancipation for women as well, up until that time reserved―though in a partial and distorted form―to men alone. Following these grand transformations, would the family institution still have meaning, or was it destined to disappear? Alexandra Kollontai has no doubts: “the family is no longer necessary." It was thrown into crisis by women’s complete emancipation, and by the spontaneity and “fluidity” that now characterize sexual relations. The family, aside from inconvenient, also proves to be superfluous: “the raising of children passes gradually into the hands of society."
Moreover, there was no cause  for despair: the family was a privileged place for the cultivation of egotism, going hand in hand with the attachment to private property. In conclusion: “The socially conscious mother will revolt to the point of no longer making a distinction between yours and mine and, therefore, remembering that there are only our children, the children of communist Russia and its workers." These ideas are strongly criticized by the Bolshevik leadership group in its entirety. In particular, in a speech in 1923, Trotsky wisely notes that such a vision ignored “the responsibility of the father and mother toward their child”, thus encouraging the neglect of children and, therefore, worsening a scourge that was already widespread in Moscow during those years.176 However, in one form or another, those ideas were “quite popular within party circles."177 Even at the start of the 1930s, a close collaborator of Stalin’s, namely Kaganovich, is forced to confront them. We turn to his biographer:
Despite completely adhering to the principle of women’s liberation, Kaganovich vehemently charged against extremist positions that sought the elimination of individual kitchens and wanted forced cohabitation in communes. Sabsovich, one of the leftist planners, had even proposed ending all spaces of cohabitation between husband and wife, with the exception of a small bedroom at night. He pushed the idea of large beehive like structures for two thousand people with all the services shared to encourage the “communal spirit” and suppress the bourgeois family unit.178
However, Kaganovich’s (and Stalin’s) position drew strong criticism from Trotsky, who at that time was the opposition’s leader: “The totally recent cult to the Soviet family did not fall from the sky. The privileges that can’t be bequeathed to children lose half their value. Now, the right to leave inheritance is inseparable from that of private property."179 Therefore, the restoration of the family institution (and the rejection of the commune destined to absorb and dissolve them) meant the defense of the right to inheritance and the right to property, and consequently takes on a clear counter-revolutionary meaning. In fact, by a “divine coincidence”―Trotsky mocks―”the solemn rehabilitation of the family” takes place at the same time that money becomes respected again; “the family is reborn at the same time in which the coercive role of the ruble is reaffirmed."180 The consecration of marital fidelity goes hand in hand with the consecration of private property: to put  it in religious terms, “the Fifth Commandment comes back into force at the same time as the Seventh, without invoking divine authority, for now."181

In fact, when looking closely, that invocation already appears on the horizon. In his speech on the drafting of the Constitution of 1936, Stalin criticizes those who want “to prohibit the holding of religious ceremonies” and “deprive clergymen of their right to vote."182 And again Trotsky intervenes to denounce that unacceptable retreat with respect to the initial project for the definitive liberation of society from the shackles of superstition: “The assault on the heavens has ceased [...]. Worried about their good reputation, the bureaucracy ordered the atheist youths to hand over their weapons and get on with reading. It’s only the start. A regime of ironic neutrality is being slowly instituted with regards to religion."183 Along with the family, the right to inheritance and to property, the opiate of the masses that Marx spoke of can’t be allowed to return.

Behind this new chapter scrutinizing the revolution’s “betrayal” is the dialectic we came across earlier. Doing away with the bourgeois family, its ingrained prejudices, and its dead laws, the revolution would have allowed love, freedom, and spontaneity into a previously private space. And yet, it’s interesting to note that what causes Trotsky’s protests and anger was still the idea of a juridical regulation of family relations:
The authentic socialist family, freed by society from the heavy and humiliating daily burdens, will not need any regulation, and the very idea of laws on divorce or abortion will be no more than the memory of houses of pleasure or of human sacrifice.184

The Condemnation of “Führerpolitik”, or the “Transformation of Power into Love”

Therefore, more than the concept of family (and the right to inheritance and to property) and the religious consecration of power (of the family head and the property owner), Trotsky’s polemic attacks the question of society’s juridical organization as a whole, the question of the state. It’s the central question on which all the different questions previously analyzed converge: predicted by Marx after the overthrow of capitalism, when and under what conditions can the process of the state’s withering away begin? The victorious proletariat―The State and Revolution affirms on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution―”only has need of a State in the process of withering away”; however, carrying out an enormous wave of nationalizations, the new power gives an unprecedented impulse to the expansion of the state apparatus. In other words, as they move towards building a new  society, Lenin is forced, whether consciously or not, to move increasingly further away from anarchism (and the positions he had initially taken). To better understand this, it’s enough to look at an important intervention―Better Fewer, but Better―published in Pravda on March 4th, 1923. What immediately stands out are the new slogans: “to improve our state apparatus”, seriously committing to the “construction of the state”, “to construct a truly new apparatus that truly deserves the  socialist and soviet name”, to improve “administrative work” and to do all this without hesitation, learning from “Western Europe’s best examples."185

But does massively expanding the state apparatus and focusing on the question of its improvement not mean, in fact, renouncing the ideal of the state’s withering away? Of course, the realization of that ideal can be delayed to a far distant future, but meanwhile, how should state owned property be managed, which had now experienced an enormous expansion, and what forms should state power take on in Soviet Russia as a whole? Even in The State and Revolution, written at a moment when Lenin was harsh, and couldn’t not be, in his denunciation of the representative regimes responsible for the war, we can read that even the most developed democracy can’t do without “representative institutions."186 Meanwhile, the expectation for the withering away of the state continues to fuel distrust in relation to the idea of representation, at the exact same time that the leaders of Soviet Russia increase the number of representative bodies (as the soviets undoubtedly are), not even neglecting a second and third level of representation: the soviets from a lower level elect their delegates to the soviet at the higher level. It would not take long for the controversy to break out.

The question of reestablishing order and the revitalization of the productive apparatus, with its recognized link to the principle of competency, is also raised in the factories: from the new regime’s beginning, social and political circles hesitant about the changes denounce the rise to power of “bourgeois specialists” and a “new bourgeoisie”, and again the target of their criticism is Trotsky, who at that time occupies a very prominent role in the leadership of the state-military apparatus.187 It’s a controversy that extends beyond Russia. There’s significant criticism directed at Gramsci, who celebrated the new state that’s taking form in the birthplace of the October Revolution, and pays tribute to the Bolsheviks for being “an aristocracy of statesmen”, and Lenin for being “the greatest statesman in contemporary Europe." They knew how to put an end to the “profound abyss of misery, barbarity, anarchy, and disorder” created “by a long and disastrous war." But―an anarchist objects―”that apology, full of lyrical praise” for the state, “statolatry”, and the “authoritarian, legalistic, parliamentarian state socialism” is in contradiction with the Soviet constitution itself, committed to installing a regime under which “there will no longer be class divisions, nor state power."188

It’s not only openly declared anarchist circles and authors who adopt a critical position. Even supporters of the international communist movement express their clear dissatisfaction, disappointment and dissension. Let’s turn to one of them, namely Pannekoek, who is no longer able to identify with the Bolshevik political program: “specialists and managers in the factories exercise a power greater than that which should be compatible with communist development [...]. From among the new managers and administrators emerges a new bureaucracy."189 “The bureaucracy”, the Workers Opposition Platform in Russia insists in the following year, “is a direct negation of mass action”; unfortunately, it’s an “ailment” that “has now invaded the most intimate fibers of our party and our Soviet institutions."190

Beyond Russia, such criticisms are also directed at the West. They call for an end “to the bourgeois representative system, to parliamentarianism."191 More so than the Bolshevik dictatorship, the target of condemnation is the principle of representation. Yes, “that someone decides your destiny, that is the essence of bureaucracy."192 The degeneration of Soviet Russia resides in the fact that a single person takes charge of a determined position: “individual management” is taking the place of “collective management” in the factories, and at all levels; and this “is a product of the individualistic mentality of the bourgeois class” and “fundamentally” expresses “an unlimited and remote free will, unbound by the collective."193 Rather than “mass politics” (Massenpolitik), the Third International now “practices top-down politics” (Führerpolitik).194

As one can see, the accusation of betrayal to the original ideals, more than being directed at abuse of power, is directed against the organs of power, founded on the distinction/opposition between leaders and those who are led, and therefore founded to the exclusion of direct action and “mass politics." While the soviets are not free of suspicion, explicit is the disgust directed toward parliament, unions, and parties, sometimes even the communist party that is itself based on the principle of representation, and therefore infected by the bureaucratic virus. Ultimately, more so than organs of powers, it is power itself that is the subject of criticism. “It’s the curse of workers power: having barely taken some ‘power’, it seeks to increase that power through unprincipled means." Thus, it ceases to be “pure”: it’s what happens to German social democracy, and it’s also what’s happening to the Third International.195

We can place the young Bloch in this context; apart from overcoming the market economy, the mercantile spirit and of money itself, he also hopes the revolution and the soviets “transform power into love."196 While the German philosopher, in removing these lines and unrealistic expectations from the second edition of The Spirit of Utopia, distances himself from the most millenarian aspects of his thinking, there are none too few communists, in Soviet Russia and outside it, who ultimately cry out in outrage because the miracle of the “transformation of power into love” doesn’t take  place.

In the first years of Soviet Russia, more so than with Stalin, the anti-”bureaucratic” polemic primarily attacks Lenin and even Trotsky, included among the most prominent “defenders and crusaders of the bureaucracy."197 The situation noticeable changes in the following years. Before even considering its contents, the approval of the constitution of 1936 alone represents a radical change, just for the fact of breaking with anarchist notions stubbornly attached to the ideal of the withering away of the state, on the basis of which “laws are the opiate of the masses” and “the very idea of a constitution is bourgeois."198 In Stalin’s words, the constitution of 1936 “does not stop at determining the formal rights of citizens, but shifts the focus toward guaranteeing these rights, toward the means of exercising these rights."199 Although insufficient and not constituting its key aspect, the “formal” guarantee of rights doesn’t appear to be irrelevant here. With satisfaction, Stalin stresses the fact that the new constitution “guaranteed the application of universal suffrage, direct and equal, with secret ballot voting."200 But it’s precisely this point that draws Trotsky’s criticism: in bourgeois society, the secret ballot is used to “shield the exploited from intimidation by the exploiters”; the reappearance of that institution in Soviet society is proof that even in the USSR the people must be protected from intimidation, if not from an authentic exploiting class, than from the bureaucracy at the very least.201

To those that demanded that the question of the state’s withering away be addressed, Stalin responded in 1938 by encouraging them not to transform the lessons of Marx and Engels into an empty scholastic dogma; the setback in the ideal’s realization was explained by the permanent capitalist encirclement. However, in listing the functions of the socialist state, aside from the traditional ones of defense against the enemy class both internal and external, Stalin called attention to a “third function, namely, the work of economic organization and the cultural and educational work by our state organs”, a work carried out with the “aim of planting the seeds of the new socialist economy and of reeducating everyone in the spirit of socialism." It was a point on which the Report to the Eighteenth Party Congress of the CPSU strongly insisted: “Now, the fundamental task of our state, inside the country, consists of the peaceful work of economic organization, and a cultural and educational work." The theorization of this “third function” was already by itself an important breakthrough. But Stalin would go further, in declaring: “The repressive task has been substituted by the task of safeguarding socialist property against thieves and those who squander the people’s property."202

Obviously, it’s a declaration that’s somewhat problematic, even mystifying: certainly it doesn’t concretely reflect the situation of the USSR in 1939, when the Terror rained havoc and the Gulag expanded monstrously. But here we are dealing with another aspect: is the thesis of the state’s withering away valid, and if so, up to what point? Will we also retain the state under communism? “Yes, it will be retained, if the capitalist encirclement is not eliminated, if the threat of foreign military aggression is not eliminated."203 Thus, the realization of communism in the Soviet Union or in a select number of countries would have meant the fading away of the first function of the socialist state (the defense against the danger of counter-revolution from within), although not the second function (the protect against external threats) that, with the presence of powerful capitalist countries, would have continued being vital even “in a communist era." But why would the third function―”economic and cultural work”, as well as the “safeguarding of socialist property from thieves and those who squander the people’s property”― have to end following the collapse of the capitalist encirclement and the absence of the second function? There’s no doubt that Stalin shows indecision and contradiction, likely driven by the necessity of moving with caution through a political minefield, where any deviation with respect to the classic thesis of the state’s withering away would expose him to the accusation of betrayal.

The Assassination of Kirov: State Conspiracy or Terrorism?

176. Carr (1969), vol. 1, p. 32.

177. Carr (1969), vol. 1, pp. 30-31.

178. Marcucci (1997), p. 143.
179. Trotsky (1988), p. 975 (= Trotsky, 1968, p. 142).

180. Trotsky (1988), p.p. 843-44 (= Trotsky, 1968, pp. 139-140).

181. Trotsky (1988), p. 846 (= Trotsky, 1968, p. 232).

182. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 14., p. 87 (= Stalin 1952, p. 641).

183. Trotsky (1988), p. 846 (= Trotsky, 1968, p. 142).

184. Trotsky (1988), p. 850 (= Trotsky, 1968, pp. 144-45).

185. Lenin (1955-1970), vol. 25, p. 380 and vol. 33, pp. 445-50.

186. Lenin (1955-1970), vol. 25, p. 400.

187. Figes (2000), pp. 878-80.

188. Gramsci (1987), pp. 56-57; the anarchist letter can be read in issue 8 of L’Ordine Nouvo

189. Pannekoek (1970), pp. 273-74.

190. Kollontai (1976), pp. 240-41.

191. Gorter (1920), p. 37.

192. Kollontai (1976), p. 242.

193. Kollontai (1976), pp. 199-200.

194. Gorter (1920), p. 87.

195. Gorter (1920), p. 33.

196. Losurdo (1997), ch. IV, § 10.

197. Kollontai (1976), p. 240.

198. Carr (1964), p. 128.

199. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 14, p. 70 (= Stalin 1952, p. 626).

200. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 14, p. 74 (= Stalin 1952, p. 629).

201. Trotsky (1988), pp. 966-67 (=Trotsky, 1968, pp. 241-42).

202. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 14, p. 229 (= Stalin 1952, pp. 724-25).

203. Stalin (1971-1973), vol. 14, p. 229 (= Stalin 1952, p. 725).

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