Fritz Sternberg

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mikail firtinaci
Fritz Sternberg
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I was reading Van der Linden's book on Soviet Union and Western Marxism. I came across with the name Fritz Sternberg for whom - Linden argued - soviet union was a sui generis mode of production, with a tendency towards red imperialism.

Anyway I knew that there was a lot of reference given to Sternberg in ICC analysis especially in the articles about decadence and war. I started to read his works now. I begin with capiltaism and socialism on trial.

I have a question which may sound a bit naive or imatient on my part but I will be happy if someone can give me some info before I finish the book. So:

1- What the ICC thinks about this person politicaly?

2- More important; to what degree he influenced ICC's decadance theory?

PS: It is also interesting that such a productive and -seemingly popular- author in 50's-60's does not even have a wikipedia entry now.



If you read German of course (+if you have access to a good library; see in Unter dem Banner des Marxismus, 1930; Julius Goldstein's critique of Sternberg).

I think the ICC agrees with Grossmann's critique of Fritz:

IIRC, Sternberg was

IIRC, Sternberg was associated with "liberal" anti-communism in the 1950s. His work had some appeal in cold warrior circles, just like Kautsky.

mikail firtinaci
IIRC, Sternberg was

IIRC, Sternberg was associated with "liberal" anti-communism in the 1950s. His work had some appeal in cold warrior circles, just like Kautsky.


That is strange. Because now I am reading it and the analysis is pretty sound. He denounce soviet union as "non-socialist" though he does not develop any idea on what it is.

On the idea of the defeat of working class in 30s, he is really close to the communist left. - perhaps that is the reason of his cold-war stance?

Plus, his analysis seems to be a marxist-luxemburgist one.

Perhaps he became a liberal in the sense that he started to defend a US sponsored or defended socialist restoration in Europe? - as stupid as it may seem various people defended various stupid ideas at that time.

mikail firtinaci
Thanks D man. But I am even

Thanks D man.

But I am even more ignorant when it comes to German unfortunately. Perhaps you can tell me the essential argument even in a few sentences?

Sternberg's politics didn't negate his contribution on economic

 Sternberg was a left social democrat (at best) and certainly an anti-fascist during the second world war; Grossmann never distanced himself from the Stalinist parties But that doesn't mean that the work either of them did on the global trends in capitalism and on the economic crisis/decadence are of no value. It may be that this kind of contribution was more feasible in the earlier part of the century but even today we don't reject all academic studies. The article on theories of decadence during the 30s looks at Grossmann's ideas and criticises Pannekoek's view that Grossmann was disqualified from making a useful contribution because he was a bourgeois academic


Here is Kuhn's summary of Grossman's critique.

The expelled leader of the Dutch communist party W. Van Ravesteyn was a proper Luxemburgist (a stance which was fueled by his conflict with Pannekoek), but I think without adding Fritz's underconsumptionist vulgarization of her.

Only the idea of decline caused by the drying up of non-capitalist areas (petty-commodity producers) is not particularly Luxemburg's idea (in fact some Luxemburgians argue that the decline subject can be dropped entirely from her book - and I kind of agree that it's tacked on at the end). This idea was wide-spread even in the rightwing of Social-democracy, as was the under-consumptionist idea (even Radek and Parvus before the war made this mistake, as Kautsky pointed out).



Sternberg wrote a song of

Sternberg wrote a song of praise for the post-war "boom": The military and industrial revolution of our time". It is as bad as its title implies. Very sad given the depth of some of his earlier work, especially his stress on the importance of the economic dislocation brought about by WW1

Grossmann was certainly a Stalinist and was a proferror, but he had been a revolutionary militant in the Polish SDP before the WW1 and in the early Polish CP. In the Law of Accumulation he is actually lacerating in his criticism of Verga, who was the main Stalinist economic therotician of the time, and other spokesmen of the official line. Grossmann's book received a very bad preess from the Stalinists as well.

The biggest problem in relation to Grossmann, apart from his Stalinism, is the lack of a full English translation. The present abridged version is not very good and has cut about 2/3 of the orginal: which included a whole section on wages, historical and statistical backing for the arguments put forwards. It is a very meaty and extremely serious attempt to defend the revolutonary nature of marxism by demonstrating that capitalism is a historical transitory system. As with Luxemburg he shows that imperialism is the outcome of the growing difficulties of accumulation (he even makes a critque of Lenin's theory of imperialism). He saw himself as completing the task that Luxemburg had set but without a critique of Marx's method of analysing accumulation. One can see it as his last contribution to Marxism, which it is whether you argree with or it not, before being fully absorbed by Stalinism. He wrote nothing as critical of the official line etc again that I know off; instead he buried himself in academism after this and keep his mouth shut in public (all the more shame on him).

Marxist Academics?

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Alf is right that Sternberg and Grossman’s politics do not negate their contributions. However, we need a theory to explain how figures with these types of politics are able to make contributions to Marxism. One could argue—as Ernie does—that Grossman’s work was carried out in a transitional period, before he was completely swallowed up by Stalinism. But this is not so easy to do for Sternberg, who was a pretty consistent Social Democrat. Is it possible for people with such politics to make a contribution to Marxism today? What about the work that is carried out in academia from a supposed Marxist perspective—the so-called British Marxist historians, etc. (Hobsbawn, Thompson, Hill, etc.)? This question has implications for the entire “Marxism and Science” debate.


The phenomenon of figures from the revolutionary wave, like Grossman, making a contribution to Marxism and then going on to reconcile with Stalinism is interesting and calls out for further historical investigation. What explains this phenomenon? The case of Lukacs comes to mind. Were any of his later works of any value at all?


To Mikhail’s point, there was definitely a community of interest between many Social Democrats and liberal Cold Warriors. There is also a well-known phenomenon of Trotskyists transforming from left critics of the Soviet Union to proponents of Western imperialism. The case of James Burnham comes to mind, as does Castoriadis—although with a much different flavor.

mikail firtinaci
sternberg and the theory of decadance

I think this is very important:

However, we need a theory to explain how figures with these types of politics are able to make contributions to Marxism

Reading the book "socialism and capitalism on trial" I can say that Sternberg definitely had some interesting analysis of capitalism. I can see in what way his theory influenced ICC. According to his theory of imperialist competition till the 2nd world war, it was only thanks to armaments production that capitalism could stop the crisis to ruin the capitalist economies.

However, for him the competition for armaments was not necessarily harmful for the workers. In fact he not only accepts Lenin's theory of "workers aristorcracy" but carries it further arguing that especially in US armaments economy benefited workers by increasing their living standarts. In fact for him this presented a partial explanation for "why the revolution did not happen in the west - and US"

In one sense he is defending American imperialism arguing that "it is different from traditional imperialism" since it is not expansionist! So against his greater evil, Russia, progressives in US by supporting a kind of socialist (in a 2nd International fashion) transformation-rebuilding in Europe after the 2nd WW the crisis could be overcomed.

I don't know if this perspective somehow related to the debates in the 30 glorious years? As far I can see decadance pamphlet quotes Sternberg extensively but shifting to a different analysis when it comes to the prospects. Hence I think the decadance pamphlet is leaving Sternberg's analysis in arguing that there was not any possibility of a peaceful development for capitalism.

I am in no position to say that if those political conclusions were necessary results of his economic analysis because I don't really understand these economic issues much. However, there may be a problem here that comrades in ICC should think about.




what problem?

Sternberg seems also to have written a long critique of Grossmann according to the German wiki-entry. But when all is said, what contribution did he make? The drying up of markets idea was made by Heinrich Cunow in 1898. And a similar idea is found in Max Nordau's Conventional Lies of our Civilization (1883), which Kautsky reviewed in Die Neue Zeit (finding him nothing special, a republican with gutsy writing style, who took some ideas from Lafargue without crediting the source).

Nordau wrote:
Already, the world over, man is laboring beyond all reason and producing beyond all demand. Almost every civilized country is trying to export manufactured articles and import provisions. The markets for the former are beginning to fail. We can say without fear of exaggeration, that the great manufacturing industries of the principal countries in Europe have found all the markets they ever will find. These conditions can only grow worse, never better. The countries which are not yet developed as regards manufactures are gradually becoming so. Processes of labor will be still more improved, machines still further increased and perfected, and then? Then each country will be able to supply its own demand for manufactured articles and have an abundance left over that it will try to dispose of to its neighbor, but in vain, for the latter will have no use for them. The very last naked negro on the upper Congo will have his fifty yards of cotton cloth and his gun, the very last Papuan his boots and his paper collars. The European will have then reached the point of buying a new suit of clothes every week, and having a machine to turn over the leaves of his magazine. This will be the Golden Age of the political economists who are so captivated by unrestricted production, unbounded consumption and an unlimited development of manufactures. And in this Golden Age, when the entire country will be set as thick with factory chimneys as it is now with trees, the people will live on chemical substitutes for food instead of bread and meat they will toil eighteen hours out of the twenty four and die without knowing that they have ever lived. Perhaps it will not be necessary to wait until this Golden Age arrives, for the fact to dawn upon certain enlightened minds or circles, that this excessive, one-sided industrialism is a wholesale suicide of the human race, and that everything which the science of political economy alleges in its favor is a lie and a fraud. We have already become convinced of the fact that a country which exports bread-stuffs, if it exhausts the soil and does not return to it in some way or other, the matter of which it is deprived by the growing grain, is gradually growing poorer, although untold millions may be pouring into it from other countries. We will become convinced of another fact sooner or later, that the exportation of labor, of muscle and nerve, in the shape of manufactured articles, will make a people grow poorer and poorer, no matter how much gold it receives in exchange for them.

Mikail, I thought I read somewhere that Sternberg was critical of Lenin's workers aristocracy. And the armaments production as a safety valve is rejected by the ICC. And Braverman's comments suggest Sternberg thought American capitalism would collapse and not last the 20th century. Thus I think we have either bad accounts of Sternberg's ideas or he was a very eclectic thinker.

For what its relevancy, here is a roughly translated critique by a member of the Russian democratic centralists of Bukharin (who the decists nicknamed the jabberer - in Russian it sounds similar), which talks a bit about decadence:



mikail firtinaci
d-man that article looks very

d-man that article looks very interesting.


About Sternberg: Yes I did not read very thorougly and I may be mistaken. I also do not try to say that ICC is wrong because Sternberg was wrong. I am just trying to understand, and actually I like some of what sterberg wrote.

I noitced the italics were

I noitced the italics were forgotten, but yes it's an interesting letter, probably written to Sapronov. To be really harsh about it though, Smirnov, like Lenin, holds to the minimum program ("nothwithstanding" the era of wars and revolutions) and when he's showing that the USSR didn't respect basic social measures for protecting labor, etc. this is not different from menshevik economistic demagoguery.

But back to the perceived problem in someone having good analysis but bad politics. I don't accept Sternberg's analysis made a contribution to Marxism, but suppose the opposite is the case; someone with good politics but bad analysis (take karl Liebknecht's theoretical writings against Marxist labour theory of value). Must this also be considered a problem or is it maybe an even bigger mystery? I think there's some false problem created here.

More in general about social-democracy and anti-communist cold war liberals, the same thing Stalinists said about Trotskyism.