Marx on the definition of social regimes (and Trotsky and Shachtman)

“The specific economic form, in which unpaid surplus-labour is pumped out of direct producers, determines the relationship of rulers and ruled, as it grows directly out of production itself and, in turn, reacts upon it as a determining element. Upon this, however, is founded the entire formation of the economic community which grows up out of the production relations themselves, thereby simultaneously its specific political form. It is always the direct relationship of the owners of the conditions of production to the direct producers — a relation always naturally corresponding to a definite stage in the development of the methods of labour and thereby its social productivity — which reveals the innermost secret, the hidden basis of the entire social structure and with it the political form of the relation of sovereignty and dependence, in short, the corresponding specific form of the state. This does not prevent the same economic basis — the same from the standpoint of its main conditions — due to innumerable different empirical circumstances, natural environment, racial relations, external historical influences, etc. from showing infinite variations and gradations in appearance, which can be ascertained only by analysis of the empirically given circumstances”.

More from Trotsky and Shachtman

That part of the product which goes to cover the worker’s own subsistence Marx calls necessary-product; that part which the worker produces above this, is surplus-product. Surplus-product must have been produced by the slave, or the slave-owner would not have kept any slaves. Surplus-product must have been produced by the serf, or serfdom would have been of no use to the landed gentry. Surplus-product, only to a considerably greater extent, is likewise produced by the wage worker, or the capitalist would have no need to buy labour power. The class struggle is nothing else than the struggle for surplus-product. He who owns surplus-product is master of the situation – owns wealth, owns the state, has the key to the church, to the courts, to the sciences and to the arts.

Trotsky (18 April 1939) The Living Thoughts of Karl Marx (Otto Rühle). 1939: 9

Trotsky (18 April 1939) Marxism in the United States. Workers Party. 1947: 13


The kulak, jointly with the petty industrialist, worked for the complete restoration of capitalism. Thus opened the irreconcilable struggle over the surplus product of national labour. Who will dispose of it in the nearest future – the new bourgeoisie or the Soviet bureaucracy? – that became the next issue. He who disposes of the surplus product has the power of the state at his disposal. It was this that opened the struggle between the petty-bourgeoisie, which had helped the bureaucracy to crush the resistance of the labouring masses and of their spokesman the Left Opposition, and the Thermidorian bureaucracy itself, which had helped the petty-bourgeoisie to lord it over the agrarian masses. It was a direct struggle for power and for income.

Trotsky (1940) Stalin. 1946: 397; 2016: 563

The privileges of the Soviet bureaucracy have a different source of origin. The bureaucracy acquires for itself that part of the national income either by force or of its management and direct control over economic relations. In regard to the [struggle over the] national surplus product the bureaucracy and the petty bourgeoisie quickly changed from an alliance to direct enemies. The control of the surplus product opened the bureaucracy’s road to power.

Trotsky (1940) Stalin. 1946: 410; 2016: 594-95


We say the Stalinist bureaucracy is a new ruling class because it is the “owner of the conditions of production.” Despite similarities in certain aspects with other class societies (the capitalist, for example), it differs basically from all of them in its own unique mode of production, in the “specific economic form in which unpaid surplus labor is pumped out of the direct producers,” in the distribution of the means of production and of the products of economy. As a result of unforeseen historical circumstances, it arose out of “the needs of production”; it did develop the productive forces in a way that no other class could under the given conditions.

Max Shachtman (October 1944) An Epigone of Trotsky – II Ignorance as a Substitute for Marxism, The New International, Vol. X No. 10, October 1944: 324

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