Do you believe the Soviet Union was state capitalist?

Submitted by Agent of the I… on February 12, 2022

I was wondering what libcommers thought on this topic. Do you believe the Soviet Regime could be described as practicing state capitalism? Or do some of you believe some other term, such as 'bureaucratic collectivism', is more appropriate? Nearly all of us probably agree that it was some form of class system, but disagree on what would be the best term for describing it's internal dynamics.

Dyjbas

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Dyjbas on February 13, 2022

It was state capitalist. But state capitalism is not simply government policy, it's a general tendency within capitalism in its imperialist epoch, a consequence of the increasing concentration and centralisation of capital, whereby state-intervention becomes more and more necessary in order to keep the system afloat. Of course the particular model adopted in the USSR became an inspiration for other states on the capitalist periphery which also had to industrialise rapidly in order to be competitive on international markets.

Steven.

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Steven. on February 13, 2022

For this to be a productive discussion I think we need to define terms. Depending on your definitions, yes it could be considered state capitalist. But it could also be other stuff, again depending on your definition.
If by state capitalism, you mean that there was a class of people forced to work for wages to survive, and there was wage labour, commodity production, and some of those commodities were sold on the market. And that most (or all) enterprises were owned by the state, then yes it was state capitalist.

adri

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by adri on February 13, 2022

I’d agree with the broad characterization of the USSR as state-capitalist, though the policies of War Communism, Lenin’s New Economic Policies, the Five Year Plans under Stalin, and so on, were not exactly identical in economic content. With the peasants for instance, grain requisitioning predominated under War Communism (driven by both necessity and ideology), whereas a market-based relation existed between the state and peasants under the NEP, and in a more coercive form under the collective farms/kolkhozy after collectivization (peasants were forced to sell grain to the state at a fixed price, and could sell whatever other grain on the free market). A market of some type or another (including black markets) existed throughout the history of the USSR. The state likewise played the leading role in organizing agricultural and industrial production, paying workers wages which they spent on consumer goods.

Regarding demographics, it’s also worth pointing out that even around the time of the Nazi invasions, industrial/urban workers were by no means the dominant segment of the population, which was kind of an irony for a country that sold itself as being a "proletarian state." The peasantry still made up most of the population, with one estimate putting the urban population at only 33 per cent at the start of the Second World War.[1] The purpose of the various Five Year Plans (such as Stalin’s) was to quickly modernize/industrialize backward-peasant Russia, and to usher in a socialist and eventually a communist society, viewed as different stages (though the meaning of such terms shifted, with Stalin regarding socialism as having already been achieved in the 1930s). They succeeded in industrializing throughout the 1930s (during the Great Depression no less) and onward, but not so much in achieving socialism/communism.

1. see for example The Economic Transformation of the Soviet Union, 1913-1945, p. 57

ajjohnstone

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by ajjohnstone on February 13, 2022

No surprise that the SPGB has been consistent in ascribing to the USSR, the description of it being state-capitalist.

The SPGB has always conceded that immediately after the revolution the workers did have a degree of control over their working lives. Committees were set up at the point of production to allow workers to have a say in the way things were run.

But that does not mean that it accepted the analysis that the USSR was a degenerated workers' state.

Worth a read

State capitalism: the wages system under new management by Adam Buick and John Crump

https://libcom.org/files/The%20Alternative%20To%20Capitalism%20-%20Adam%20Buick%20and%20John%20Crump.pdf

sherbu-kteer

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by sherbu-kteer on February 17, 2022

I think even calling it "state-capitalist" ascribes to it some kind of economic structure different in essence from the structures in the west.

I find some of the ICP's material on this interesting to read even if sometimes they make weird conclusions:

http://www.sinistra.net/lib/pro/whyrusnsoc.html

Dyjbas

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Dyjbas on February 17, 2022

sherbu-kteer

I think even calling it "state-capitalist" ascribes to it some kind of economic structure different in essence from the structures in the west.

It doesn't, if you recognise that state capitalism is a general tendency within capitalism in its imperialist epoch, which was expressed both in the East and the West.

In fact, the Marxist analysis of state capitalism predates the existence of the USSR, see e.g. Bukharin on State Capitalism and Imperialism from the CWO-ICT.

Agent of the I…

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Agent of the I… on February 18, 2022

I have a related question: was the term 'state capitalist' used by anarchists and other critics of authoritarian socialists to describe the latter's program, before the creation of the Soviet Union, or did it come about afterwards?

ajjohnstone

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by ajjohnstone on February 18, 2022

The SPGB usually credits Lenin with introducing the term regards Russia in "Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat it", October 1917

"socialism is merely state-capitalist monopoly which is made to serve the interests of the whole people and has to that extent ceased to be capitalist monopoly."

Later in May 19 in his, "Left wing childishness and petit-bourgeois mentality"

"economically, state capitalism is immeasurably superior to our present economic system."

It is said that the German war industry re-organisation was an inspiration to Lenin.

The NEP in 1921 could be said when the official rubber stamp endorsed state-capitalism

It was 1920 the SPGB began applying the state-capitalist definition to Russia.

"State-socialism" was often used in the 19th C by the likes of William Morris and the 2nd International, referring to Bismarckian state-ownership

But outside the Russian context Marx wrote of

"state capital, in so far as governments employ productive wage-labour in mines, railways, etc., and function as industrial capitalists’ (Capital, Vol 2, ch. 3)."

However, in 1906 the SPGB was critiquing the French Possiblists

They are for State capitalism or collective exploitation. We are not concerned with State capitalism. We are concerned with Socialism. Socialism is the negation of capitalism. Consequently State capitalism cannot be the ideal of any Socialist. Ergo those who preach State capitalism or collective exploitation are not Socialists.

ajjohnstone

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by ajjohnstone on February 18, 2022

An SPGB member compiled a list of all of Lenin's references to state capitalism from 1916 to 1923 which can be read on our blog.

https://socialismoryourmoneyback.blogspot.com/2019/10/lenin-on-state-capitalism.html

Dyjbas

2 years 3 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Dyjbas on February 18, 2022

ajjohnstone

"State-socialism" was often used in the 19th C by the likes of William Morris and the 2nd International, referring to Bismarckian state-ownership

True, in that context Wilhelm Liebknecht even proclaimed in 1896 that "nobody has shown more distinctively than I, that State Socialism is really State capitalism".

But even earlier, in the 1860s, Marx and Engels already criticised the "Royal Prussian governmental socialism" of Ferdinand Lassalle.

klas batalo

2 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by klas batalo on February 21, 2022

the movement towards communism was not allowed to blossom there

in general it developed towards state-capitalism though i am sympathetic to bordiga that it might of for a time been some sorta transitional society of bureacratic collectivism between feudalism and state-capitalism

Craftwork

2 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Craftwork on February 21, 2022

It wasn't state capitalist, because there was no general equivalent form of value (i.e. money*), which meant there was no way to equate the values of Soviet products of labour as commodities (since there is no commodity (money) to serve as general equivalent form of value AND Soviet production mostly didn't consist of mutually-independent, self-directed private producers, which is a condition of commodity-production), which meant that there is also no way to equate the labours of Soviet workers.

Marx 101: The value of the relative form of value exists in the bodily form (i.e. as the use-value) of the equivalent form of value.

Abstract labour/value exist in the bodily form (i.e. the use-value) of the general equivalent form of value - money. In our society, abstract labour/value assume the form of money; the units of value are units of money (i.e. dollars).

And without money on a world market, there is no social unity or social reality to value and abstract labour - the latter two are relational abstractions that are only determined through the existence of the 'relators' money and world-market.

Marx, Capital vol. 1:

Objects of utility become commodities only because they are the products of private labors conducted independently of each other. All these private labors together constitute the aggregate social labor. Since the producers do not come into social contact until they exchange the products of their labors, the specific social characteristics of their private labors appear only within this exchange.

In other words, the private labors take effect, through their activity, as elements of the social aggregate labor only through the connections which the act of exchange establishes between the products and, through the products’ mediation, between the producers.

And:

Only on the world market, money fully functions as the commodity whose bodily form is at the same time the form in which human labor in the abstract becomes a social reality. Its mode of existence becomes adequate to its concept.

The people who believe the Soviet Union was state-capitalist are fundamentally basing themselves on a substantialist (pre-monetary) conception of abstract labour. But if you accept the 'validationist' or 'circulationist' conceptions of abstract labour/value, then you can't admit the Soviet Union was state-capitalist.

* Money, in the 20th century, meant British Pounds and then US dollars. The Soviet currency was a non-money, it wasn't exchangeable, it was more like a voucher.

ajjohnstone

2 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by ajjohnstone on February 22, 2022

Having explained your reasoning to as why the USSR was not state-capitalist, can you say what it actually was, Craftwork?

Dyjbas

2 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Dyjbas on February 22, 2022

Craftwork

* Money, in the 20th century, meant British Pounds and then US dollars. The Soviet currency was a non-money, it wasn't exchangeable, it was more like a voucher.

The rouble was non-convertible (helpful for remaining outside the sphere of influence of the dollar) but of course it was exchangeable. Workers still worked for a wage with which they had to buy their means of subsistence. Domestic trade between state, cooperative and private enterprises still took place. Etc.

And if that's not enough, here it is, straight from the horse's mouth...

"Products which are made and realised as commodities in socialist [sic] society have a use-value, created by concrete labour, and a value, created by abstract labour. [...] On the basis that gold is a universal equivalent, the Soviet State fixed a gold content for the rouble in carrying out the currency reform of 1922-4. The gold content of the rouble was later fixed indirectly, by establishing an exchange-rate for the Soviet rouble with first the franc and later the dollar. In 1950, in connection with the increased purchasing power of the rouble and the reduced purchasing power of the dollar and other capitalist currencies, the Soviet State fixed the gold content of the rouble directly, at 0.222168 grams of gold. The exchange-rate of the rouble with other currencies was raised to correspond with its gold content. [...] Money in socialist [sic] economy is a universal equivalent, an economic instrument for planning the economy, a means for controlling and keeping account of the production and distribution of the social product, the measure of labour and consumption. Money has the function of a measure of value, a means of circulation, a means of payment, and a means of socialist accumulation and saving, a world currency. Soviet money is backed not only by the gold reserve but primarily by the mass of commodities which is concentrated in State hands and sold at State planned prices." (Economics Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R., 1954)

ajjohnstone

2 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by ajjohnstone on February 22, 2022

The SLP of America called the USSR ‘bureaucratic state despotism’

http://www.slp.org/pdf/others/sov_soc.pdf

The SLP of GB described it as 'industrial feudalism'

http://www.slp.org/pdf/others/marx-stal.pdf

Craftwork

2 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Craftwork on March 1, 2022

Dyjbas

Craftwork

* Money, in the 20th century, meant British Pounds and then US dollars. The Soviet currency was a non-money, it wasn't exchangeable, it was more like a voucher.

The rouble was non-convertible (helpful for remaining outside the sphere of influence of the dollar) but of course it was exchangeable. Workers still worked for a wage with which they had to buy their means of subsistence. Domestic trade between state, cooperative and private enterprises still took place. Etc.

And if that's not enough, here it is, straight from the horse's mouth...

"Products which are made and realised as commodities in socialist [sic] society have a use-value, created by concrete labour, and a value, created by abstract labour. [...] On the basis that gold is a universal equivalent, the Soviet State fixed a gold content for the rouble in carrying out the currency reform of 1922-4. The gold content of the rouble was later fixed indirectly, by establishing an exchange-rate for the Soviet rouble with first the franc and later the dollar. In 1950, in connection with the increased purchasing power of the rouble and the reduced purchasing power of the dollar and other capitalist currencies, the Soviet State fixed the gold content of the rouble directly, at 0.222168 grams of gold. The exchange-rate of the rouble with other currencies was raised to correspond with its gold content. [...] Money in socialist [sic] economy is a universal equivalent, an economic instrument for planning the economy, a means for controlling and keeping account of the production and distribution of the social product, the measure of labour and consumption. Money has the function of a measure of value, a means of circulation, a means of payment, and a means of socialist accumulation and saving, a world currency. Soviet money is backed not only by the gold reserve but primarily by the mass of commodities which is concentrated in State hands and sold at State planned prices." (Economics Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R., 1954)

Products which are made and realised as commodities in socialist [sic] society have a use-value, created by concrete labour, and a value, created by abstract labour.

The value of commodities isn't 'created' by abstract labour like concrete labour creates use-values. Abstract labour is a relation that only exists in the context of a market economy. The market is the context where the labours of different producers are brought into comparison via a comparison of the values of their commodities, expressed in units of money.

Money in socialist [sic] economy is a universal equivalent

Of course, money is the general equivalent form of value.

Currencies are just tokens issued by states which derive their value based on their relationship to gold and (post-Bretton Woods) dollars, the latter two are proper money (i.e. global money).

The Soviet Union had a currency, but it wasn't money, it was not a general equivalent form of value, unlike gold or dollars (the bases of the world economy/world trade) which can be used to procure any commodity anywhere in the world. Within the Soviet Union, the ruble wasn't valued in accordance with its exchange-rate with the dollar on the world market, the value of the goods produced in the Soviet Union were not truly represented in the bodily form of the Soviet ruble. Unlike pounds, or francs, rubles were worthless outside of the Soviet sphere of influence, and cannot be converted to gold of equal value (whereas $35 equalled 1 ounce of gold under Bretton Woods). All this means rubles are more like a voucher with an arbitrary value that can only be redeemed under specific conditions.

"Domestic trade between state, cooperative and private enterprises still took place"

It's not really trade if the institutions are not actually separate, but primarily different parts of the state, whose activity is still all, jointly regulated according to state directives. As I said above, Soviet production mostly didn't consist of mutually-independent, self-directed private producers, which is a condition of commodity-production.

Craftwork

2 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Craftwork on March 1, 2022

ajjohnstone

Having explained your reasoning to as why the USSR was not state-capitalist, can you say what it actually was, Craftwork?

It was a failed attempt at suspending the logic of capitalism.

ajjohnstone

2 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by ajjohnstone on March 2, 2022

ajjohnstone wrote:
Having explained your reasoning to as why the USSR was not state-capitalist, can you say what it actually was, Craftwork?
It was a failed attempt at suspending the logic of capitalism.

Could that not be a more appropriate analysis of just one early phase of the revolution - war communism

ajjohnstone

2 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by ajjohnstone on March 2, 2022

This exchange may be of interest on Cambodia and abolition of money since i think it relates to this topic

https://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/2020s/2022/no-1411-march-2022/letters-170/

sherbu-kteer

2 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by sherbu-kteer on March 2, 2022

But what was the substance of the attempt, craftwork? Like imagine there's a guy who is attempting to fly like a bird, by jumping around and waving his arms up and down. Yes he's making a failed attempt to fly, but at the end of the day what he's actually doing is just running around like an idiot.

To me this is just like Occam's razor or something to say that the Russian worker who receives his pay in roubles and uses it to pay for necessities, the manager or owner of a firm who counts his returns in roubles, etc are all just playing with monopoly money. There's no reason to say that it's not "really trade" if it's between firms linked by some state-regulatory framework. Firstly, there was a substantial private sector, both legal and illegal depending on the political period; it was not all state-run enterprises, far from it. Secondly – there was trade and exchange in the regular sense too, with the rest of the world; it doesn't seem realistic to me to say that there USSR was some kind of island of non-economy whilst still being dependent in an existential sense on foreign trade and the world market.

I also don't think the state control really modifies things that much – in war time even the bourgeois liberal democracies embrace a much more "state-centric" economy. Plenty of western states had state monopoly industries with wages and costs set for political reasons, not just based on naked market value.

And, I guess, more to the point, there was still an entire class of people who sell their labour-power for wages in order to survive...

As for klas batalo's comment I'm not sure I quite understand it since from what I've read, Bordiga never thought of the USSR as "bureaucratic-collectivist" and was actually quite hostile to similar theories that attempted to assert the existence of a "new ruling class" based on managers or bureaucrats or whoever. Russia was just a very backward kind of capitalism, not anything else. The movement towards communism was not allowed to blossom there – just like it was not allowed to blossom in any other capitalist nation

Dyjbas

2 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Dyjbas on March 2, 2022

Craftwork

It was a failed attempt at suspending the logic of capitalism.

Ok, so the USSR failed to "suspend the logic of capitalism" hence it must still have been... capitalist (unless you buy into the non-mode of production theories).

Regarding the money question, you've only repeated yourself. The text I quoted mentions how the exchange-rate for the rouble was variously fixed to the dollar and to gold. How (even for economists in the USSR) the rouble was a measure of value, a means of circulation, a means of payment, a means of accumulation, etc.

More generally though, the capitalist character of society is not altered whether exchange is regulated or spontaneous. State ownership of the means of production does not mean exchange of mutually independent labours (buying and selling of labour-power) no longer takes place. The premise of your argument seems to be that capitalism is just simple commodity production. Marx and Engels themselves pointed out how the concentration and centralisation of capital means production increasingly loses its private character and becomes a social process. Towards the end of their lives, they even began to analyse the tendencies which soon culminated in state capitalism and imperialism:

"In any case, with trusts or without, the official representative of capitalist society — the state — will ultimately have to undertake the direction of production. This necessity for conversion into State property is felt first in the great institutions for intercourse and communication — the post office, the telegraphs, the railways. [...] But, the transformation — either into joint-stock companies and trusts, or into State-ownership — does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces. In the joint-stock companies and trusts, this is obvious. And the modern State, again, is only the organization that bourgeois society takes on in order to support the external conditions of the capitalist mode of production against the encroachments as well of the workers as of individual capitalists. The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine — the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers — proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with. It is, rather, brought to a head." (Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, 1880)

sherbu-kteer

As for klas batalo's comment I'm not sure I quite understand it since from what I've read, Bordiga never thought of the USSR as "bureaucratic-collectivist" and was actually quite hostile to similar theories that attempted to assert the existence of a "new ruling class" based on managers or bureaucrats or whoever.

When he returned to political life after WWII, Bordiga initially considered the USSR “state industrialist”. This was one of the disagreements that contributed to the split in the Italian Left in 1952, as Damen and his comrades saw it as state capitalist (see e.g leftcom.org). Later on Bordiga seemed to revise his views on this a bit.

AnythingForProximity

2 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by AnythingForProximity on March 2, 2022

Dyjbas

When he returned to political life after WWII, Bordiga initially considered the USSR “state industrialist”. This was one of the disagreements that contributed to the split in the Italian Left in 1952, as Damen and his comrades saw it as state capitalist

This seems to imply that under the label of "State industrialism", Bordiga was peddling some sort of "neither – nor" bureaucratic collectivism theory. That's not the case. In response to Damen and others who considered the USSR as a whole to be state capitalist, Bordiga simply pointed out that in Russia, state capitalism only existed in industry but not in agriculture, which was dominated by small-scale patriarchal (i.e., pre-capitalist) production that was at best tending toward private capitalism. Dialogue with Stalin and Part III of The Economic and Social Structure of Russia Today make this perfectly clear. His difference with Damen was not over the capitalist character of the Russian economy, but over how advanced Russian capitalism really was.

Dyjbas

2 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Dyjbas on March 3, 2022

AnythingForProximity

In response to Damen and others who considered the USSR as a whole to be state capitalist, Bordiga simply pointed out that in Russia, state capitalism only existed in industry but not in agriculture, which was dominated by small-scale patriarchal (i.e., pre-capitalist) production that was at best tending toward private capitalism.

The 1951 exchange between Damen and Bordiga on this topic is relevant here - Five Letters and An Outline of Disagreement.

Damen took up Lenin's analysis of the different elements of the Russian economy. In fact, he was willing to agree with Bordiga that the "peasant economy tends for the most part to capitalism", but not that "the trustified economy of the State tends to capitalism" (it already was capitalist). He also pointed out how "recent history has proved the decisive prevalence of the tendency based on the commodity economy, which is, in short, capitalist."

Furthermore, Damen argued that if we say the Russian economy as a whole is "tending to capitalism", that can imply the ruling class "is tending itself to become capitalist, and is not yet capitalist." It invites ambiguity. As the other article I linked to says, the label “state capitalism” has a class significance, “state industrialism” does not. Likewise with Bordiga's reluctance to consider the USSR imperialist.

ZJW

2 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by ZJW on March 4, 2022

On Pol Pot Cambodia:

James Tyner vs the SPGB: https://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/2020s/2022/no-1411-march-2022/letters-170

(Review of Tyner article about Pol Pot Cambidia on which the above exchange of letters is based is at

https://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/2020s/2022/no-1410-february-2022/was-money-abolished-in-cambodia

('Was Money Abolished in Cambodia?') )

Craftwork

2 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by Craftwork on March 7, 2022

Dyjbas

Craftwork

It was a failed attempt at suspending the logic of capitalism.

Ok, so the USSR failed to "suspend the logic of capitalism" hence it must still have been... capitalist (unless you buy into the non-mode of production theories).

Yes, the latter. It obviously wasn't socialism.

Dyjbas

Regarding the money question, you've only repeated yourself. The text I quoted mentions how the exchange-rate for the rouble was variously fixed to the dollar and to gold. How (even for economists in the USSR) the rouble was a measure of value, a means of circulation, a means of payment, a means of accumulation, etc.

What I tried pointing out was that the economy of the Soviet Union might have retained the use of the form of money, or the form of companies, but their content was quite different from what they are in a system in which economic activity is primarily a self-regulated activity independently carried out by private individuals of civil society, rather than primarily collectively subordinated to the political objectives of the Politburo/state.

You incorrectly think that because the ruble is "fixed to the dollar and to gold" and deployed like money, that therefore it is money, but it isn't if it is not the foundation of economic activity.

Exposure to global capital markets is necessary to continuously 'test' and verify the value of currencies (which is not the case with the ruble). The value of the ruble is falsified, therefore the value of all hypothetical commodities (if we assume, as you do, that commodity production took place in the Soviet economy), as expressed in rubles, including labour-power itself, would be incorrect.

Combined with the fact that goods are rationed, you have a problem with the whole production for exchange thing.

Engels obviously argues that state ownership doesn't negate capitalism but he is discussing the state nationalising natural monopolies like railways or operating a postal service, within the broader context of 19th century capitalism, he's not describing a type of system as emerged in the Stalin-period Soviet Union. But in a logically developing capitalist system, what would compel the state to nationalise non-monopolistic, highy-competitive sectors, such as fashion or food? If you believe the Engels quote can be used to explain the Soviet Union, then I think you've misinterpreted it.

State ownership alone does not change the fact of capitalism, but when you combine it with the fact that the state overrides independent economic activity in favour of unifying and subordinating the whole, national economy to its political objectives (which are economically-irrational objectives, not following an economic logic, and therefore operating beyond the scope of money and profit), in which the value of money is falsified and trade is not carried out freely, and labour is actually forced, and labour-power not freely-exchanged for wages of equivalent value, you have a system where critical features of capitalism (which are assumed in the Engels quote you provided) are missing.

I like how Simon Clarke explains the place of money in capitalism:

“The separation of the state from civil society is the fundamental characteristic of the capitalist state form, which permits the state to stand apart from all particular interests, as representative of the general interest of society as a whole. [...] The limits of the capitalist state lay in the form of state power, which was embodied in the rule of money and the law. However money and the law are not instruments, by means of which the capitalist class imposes its rule. They comprise anonymous and autonomous social powers (embodied in the 'independence' of the central bank and the judiciary), which rules both civil society and the state with equal force.” (http://homepages.warwick.ac.uk/~syrbe/pubs/MOSCLECT.pdf)

ajjohnstone

2 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by ajjohnstone on March 7, 2022

I wonder if we are not confusing when capitalism in times of all-out war suspends normal economic relations and the capitalist mode of production.

Lenin seemed approving of Germany's wartime economy as serving as a model for the Bolsheviks to follow

Should we also recognise America's and Britain's state-directed planning during WW2 as non-capitalist because profit-making became very much a secondary concern to production and thus non-capitalist?

link

2 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by link on March 8, 2022

What I tried pointing out was that the economy of the Soviet Union might have retained the use of the form of money, or the form of companies, but their content was quite different from what they are in a system in which economic activity is primarily a self-regulated activity independently carried out by private individuals of civil society, rather than primarily collectively subordinated to the political objectives of the Politburo/state. (Craftwerk No 26)

Craftwerk makes many errors in his statement about what capitalism is. What is particularly noticeable is the lack of any reference to the situation of the working class. Does the idea that money is different in the USSR means that he thinks there was no working class just a class of bureaucrats doing all the administration and the work? Just one big happy class? Does electronic money fit this category of non-money too? What about debt as well? Neither of these are based on real work or real money after all? What about all the other countries that have a system where economic activity is subordinated to political objectives? We could include here Saudi Arabia, Albania, Syria, Libya, Myanmar, China, Cambodia, Philippines, Hitler's Germany, Hirohito's Japan, Mussolini's Italy. Allende's Chile, Nicaragua, Haiti, Cuba. Sorry this list is getting silly. Let us admit that all countries today fail to allow private individuals to self regulate economic activity? Are you saying that America has is not dominated by a politically motivated state and state bureaucrary? This ended in Britain in the mid 19th century when the British state took over the foreign activities of the various charter companies and the banks, hedge funds, and financial institutions came to dominate the big corporations. Yes the content of these nations became different but that was a phase in the development of capitalism. No one has ever suggested that capitalism must stay as it was in the 1830s, that would be absurd - or is that what you think?. Economic activity and the role of the state have evolved as capitalism enlarged and started operating in a developed world market.

As AJJ correctly suggest in the times of war economic activity is also heavily subordinated to the political objectives of the state. Do you suggest therefore that capitalism comes and goes during periods of war and peace or during periods of left and right wing governments, in periods where royal institutions exists or disappear, during periods of military dictatorships or not? No, analysing capitalism means accepting there are lots of institutional variations in the different nations due to culture, religion, history, politics climate etc. What is common is what is important not what differentiates them because all nations today are capitalist, all are dominated by finances and financial necessities and financial pressures and imperialist priorities. All nations are dominated by the powerful capitalism powers who can pull the strings internationally.

Back to the situation of the working class, just what was the difference for coal miners in the USSR, in Russia today or in Britain, what about shop workers, bus drivers, car workers, and so on and so forth. They are all paid wages for their labour, they take that money whatever it is called and use it to buy their means of subsistence and support their families. Whatever form of money exists the employers whether the state, Henry Ford, Roman Abramovic or Alan Sugar or whoever make a profit out of that labour and use that profit to increase their production or spend it on the military etc. If they could do that they would not be employing anybody at all.

ZJW

2 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by ZJW on March 8, 2022

Dyjbas wrote:

Ok, so the USSR failed to "suspend the logic of capitalism" hence it must still have been... capitalist (unless you buy into the non-mode of production theories).

For those that missed the relevant issue of Aufheben (or whatever), someone in the know will please explain:

(1 )What is to be understood by the term 'not a mode of production'. (A term, which, on the surface anyway, seems nonsensical: how can a whole country be 'producing' things without said production taking place within a ' "mode" of production'. Does the term then perhaps really mean 'more than one single mode of production'? Or, perhaps mean a rag-bag of incoherent helter-skelter ad-hoc measures?)

(2) Who came up with this phrase, and to what if any political end? (Assuming, of course, it was not motivated by pure and objective science.)

ZJW

2 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by ZJW on March 9, 2022

It seems to me that the question should not be a narrow one of what was the unSoviet Union but: what were the leninist societies in general (but especially at their most 'stalinist'). This is a temporal and spatial gamut that runs from 'workers self-managed' Tito Yugoslavia at one pole to Pol Pot Cambodia (in which, internally, currency did not exist) at the other. (In the case of China, the 'Great Leap Forward' period seems to be the most non-capitalist. You can freely apply quotation marks or not, as you please, to the last two words.)

ZJW

2 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by ZJW on March 9, 2022

Simon Clarke having been mentioned, two quotes from him:

From 'How not to understand the Soviet Union' (online at http://homepages.warwick.ac.uk/~syrbe/pubs/ResnickWolff.doc ) -- which is his entertaining 2003 review of Resnick and Wolff's: 'Class Theory and History: Capitalism and Communism in the USSR':

'The fundamental contradiction of the soviet mode of production, if we can call it that, was that, as in other non-capitalist forms of exploitation, the appropriation of a surplus was separated from its production, so the direct producers, and indeed every subordinate level of the system, had an interest not in maximizing but in minimizing the surplus produced. '

From the 1994 book ‘What About The Workers? Workers and the Transition to Capitalism in Russia’ (some chapters in which are by Clarke, online at: http://homepages.warwick.ac.uk/~syrbe/pubs/whataboutworkers.pdf ):

'The Soviet system was based on wage labour [sic], but it was certainly not based on social relations of capitalist production. While the system as a whole may have been subject to the international operation of the law of value, Soviet enterprises most certainly were not subjected to the law of value, and so to the production and appropriation of surplus value.' [...] 'The ideological representation was one in which production was subordinated to the needs of the labour collective. The reality was that the needs of the labour collective were subordinated to the production and appropriation of a surplus product, and were determined by the need to secure the expanded reproduction of the collective labourer as an object of exploitation. This subordination permeated the system, from the centre, where the aspirations of the working class as a whole were expressed by the Central Committee of the Communist Party, to the enterprise and the shop, where they were handed down in the minutiae of the plan and the target, and used as the means of disciplining and controlling the labour force. The fetishised form in which the social character of human labour confronted every individual worker in the form of the labour collective, as an alien object to which his or her own labour activity is subordinated, was in a sense the state-socialist equivalent of the capitalist alienation of labour in the fetishised form of the commodity. The idea of the enterprise as a labour collective is an ideological ction which masks the fact that the one thing that the enterprise cannot tolerate is the collective organisation of its workers. Nevertheless it is a powerful ction: it is in the name of the labour collective that the administration rules the enterprise, and presses its interests against higher authorities, and it is in the name of the labour collective that individual workers are subjected to managerial author- ity. The labour collective is personified not by any collective body but by the enterprise Director, and indeed it was the case that the fate of an enterprise in the battle for resources depended as much as anything on the character and contacts of the Director. '

It is to be noted that the SPGB praised Clarke's ‘Marx’s Theory of Crisis’(which is anti-monocausal FROP), but took a negative attitude toward 'What about the Workers?', saying:

'Clarke is quite clear that the alleged failure of Marxism following the collapse of the Russian Empire is a myth, and that what has really failed is Leninism. This accurate insight is made all the more puzzling with the recent publication of another of his books. [...] As the subtitle of Clarke’s second book indicates, he labours under the illusion that Russia was something other than capitalist before the fall. His contention rests on the claim that Marx’s law of value did not apply in Russia before but does now. [...] the collapse of the Russian Empire is a striking confirmation of the law of value, and it brings out a peculiar feature of his book on crises in that it ignores Marx’s theory of value. [...] Under the old system, the law of value (basically, the social compulsion to accumulate capital out of monetary profits) operated but was modified by state action. In Marxist terminology, the state redistributed surplus value from the profitable sector of the economy to non-profitable ends (the military in particular). But by the 1980s the “purging” effect on unprofitable businesses induced by the law of value, and delayed by state action, meant that most of the economy had become inefficient in terms of profitability and was, literally, in a state of crisis.]

See https://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/socialist-standard/1990s/1995/no-1086-february-1995/book-reviews-marxs-theory-crisis-and-what-about .

AnythingForProximity

2 years 2 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Submitted by AnythingForProximity on March 9, 2022

ZJW

(2) Who came up with this phrase, and to what if any political end? (Assuming, of course, it was not motivated by pure and objective science.)

The phrase itself was coined by Aufheben in the 1990s AFAIK (and the question of how to characterize their political ends is highly pertinent – "academic ultraleftism with cop-collaborationist characteristics", perhaps?), but the actual content behind it was developed by the Trotskyist Hillel Ticktin in a series of works from 1973 onward.

Fozzie

2 years 1 month ago

Submitted by Fozzie on March 21, 2022

also bumping this

ZJW

1 year ago

Submitted by ZJW on May 19, 2023

Re Dyjbas' "unless you buy into the non-mode of production theories" --

Here, Chuang expands upon its claim -- seen in its fundamental text on the maoist era, 'Sorghum and Steel: The Socialist [sic] Developmental Regime and the Forging of China' -- that maoist China was a non mode of production: https://chuangcn.org/2022/07/china-faq-communist/ , specifically from section 'What was the socialist development regime, if it wasn’t communist?' .

(Their four FAQs on China can be accessed from https://chuangcn.org/resources/faq/ . That is, 'What Do Chinese Workers Think about the CCP'; 'Is China a Capitalist Country?' 'Is China a Socialist Country?' 'Wasn't China a Communist Country under Mao?' )

westartfromhere

1 year ago

Submitted by westartfromhere on May 19, 2023

The USSR was plain capitalist. No ifs, no buts.

Submitted by Craftwork on May 19, 2023

westartfromhere wrote: The USSR was plain capitalist. No ifs, no buts.

There are many ifs and buts, chief among them is the absence of abstract labour, without which you cannot have value production (see my arguments above).

The Soviet economy was not capitalist, it was inferior to capitalism, and the collapse of that system was necessary to transition to capitalism.

westartfromhere

12 months ago

Submitted by westartfromhere on May 21, 2023

Kraftwerk, please imagine you are talking to an imbecile. You are. Can we start from here?

"Abstract labour and concrete labour refer to a distinction between human labour in general as economically valuable worktime versus human labour as a particular activity that has a specific useful effect within the (capitalist) mode of production."

I see that Wiki says concrete labour is a feature of capitalist production, perhaps confirming what you say, that concrete labour was absent from the Communist mode of production of the USSR. I'm getting way ahead of myself because I haven't got my head round the paragraph quoted above. Explain what it means by, "a particular activity that has a specific useful effect within the (capitalist) mode of production." Or should I read the Wiki page? The only problem with that is I don't trust its content. It allowed me, an imbecile (I'm not being funny), to edit the page, Surplus Value.

The only cogent thought I can come up with on this matter is, If the Soviet Union was not capitalist, where did all the capital spring from after the collapse of Communism?

EDIT: I'm reading your comment above, bear with me.

"(i.e. dollars)" Should that read e.g. dollars? Or is the dollar somehow like the Gold Standard? "* Money, in the 20th century, meant British Pounds and then US dollars. The Soviet currency was a non-money, it wasn't exchangeable, it was more like a voucher." So Peter Tosh was not using metaphor in The Day the Dollar Dies.

"And without money on a world market..." Was the Soviet Ruble not exchangeable on the world money markets? Someone says, "The rouble was non-convertible (helpful for remaining outside the sphere of influence of the dollar) but of course it was exchangeable." Does this mean it was exchangeable within the country but not outside? I'll presume so.

OK, I have read what you wrote. Can't see nothing wrong with that. My tutor at college told me that the term state capitalist was just a propaganda tool. Workers hate capitalism, workers hate the state, let's call it "state capitalism".

darren p

12 months ago

Submitted by darren p on May 21, 2023

'Concrete' labour is just any specific act of labour, it's not something that is exclusive to capitalism at all.

You get 'abstract' labour once the products of labour are compared on the market.

Dyjbas

12 months ago

Submitted by Dyjbas on May 21, 2023

No abstract labour in the USSR? Again, even the economists who helped to administer that system seem to disagree...

"Products which are made and realised as commodities in socialist [sic] society have a use-value, created by concrete labour, and a value, created by abstract labour. In other words, a commodity, has a two-fold character in socialist society determined by the two-fold character of the labour embodied in the commodity. [...] The differences in the degree to which labour is socialised in State enterprises and collective farms, and the existence of commodity connections between State industry and the collective farms, due to the two forms of social ownership, make it impossible to express and compare directly, in the form of labour-time the social labour expended in producing the output of the State and collective farm sectors. This makes necessary the indirect reduction of the social labour expended on the production of industrial and collective farm output to a common expression and measure, by utilising value and its forms. This is effected by reducing the various concrete forms of the labour of workers and collective farmers to their equivalent in abstract labour, which creates the value of a commodity." (Economics Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R., 1954)

Submitted by westartfromhere on May 22, 2023

An appraisal of the Soviet economy by a State administrator in 1954 around the time that the Russian state began groping its way back into the larger world political economy. I wonder what was motivating these thought patterns?

Submitted by Dyjbas on May 22, 2023

westartfromhere wrote: An appraisal of the Soviet economy by a State administrator in 1954 around the time that the Russian state began groping its way back into the larger world political economy. I wonder what was motivating these thought patterns?

The USSR already started entering the world economy in the 1920s, by the 1950s it was the world's second superpower. The quote comes from a textbook written by a group of economists and it was used for educational purposes in universities and party schools. Along with documents like Stalin's Economic Problems of the USSR, it's relevant here because it shows in what terms future administrators were encouraged to think - despite all the socialist rhetoric, they inevitably accepted the economic categories of capitalism (a consequence of the real needs of the "Soviet" economy).

westartfromhere

12 months ago

Submitted by westartfromhere on May 24, 2023

This is a timeline from a vulgar perspective:

1914 Bourgeois world war
1917 Proletarian revolution
1917 Russian Social Democratic Party instigates bourgeois counter-revolution
1917-21 Violent suppression of proletarian revolution
1917- Peculiar mutations of the capital at the hands of the State
2000 September: Reemergence of proletarian revolution
2020 March: Bourgeois counter-revolution undertakes world government

Submitted by Craftwork on May 25, 2023

Dyjbas wrote: No abstract labour in the USSR? Again, even the economists who helped to administer that system seem to disagree...

"Products which are made and realised as commodities in socialist [sic] society have a use-value, created by concrete labour, and a value, created by abstract labour. In other words, a commodity, has a two-fold character in socialist society determined by the two-fold character of the labour embodied in the commodity. [...] The differences in the degree to which labour is socialised in State enterprises and collective farms, and the existence of commodity connections between State industry and the collective farms, due to the two forms of social ownership, make it impossible to express and compare directly, in the form of labour-time the social labour expended in producing the output of the State and collective farm sectors. This makes necessary the indirect reduction of the social labour expended on the production of industrial and collective farm output to a common expression and measure, by utilising value and its forms. This is effected by reducing the various concrete forms of the labour of workers and collective farmers to their equivalent in abstract labour, which creates the value of a commodity." (Economics Institute of the Academy of Sciences of the U.S.S.R., 1954)

Appealing to the authority of Soviet economists is a stretch. Especially since you reject their claim that their society was socialist. If you read the quote carefully, it never proves (but simply assumes) that the products of labour in the Soviet system are commodities.

1. "Products which are made and realised as commodities in socialist [sic] society have a use-value, created by concrete labour, and a value, created by abstract labour"
Obviously any product which is a commodity is a use-value with a value. However this sentence merely assumes without proof that products made in the Soviet system are commodities.

2. "In other words, a commodity, has a two-fold character in socialist society determined by the two-fold character of the labour embodied in the commodity"
Once again, this sentence assumes that the products of labour in the Soviet system are commodities, without any proof. In addition, it assumes that labour in the Soviet system also has a two-fold character without proof.

3. "makes necessary the indirect reduction of the social labour expended [...] to a common expression and measure, by utilising value and its forms"

How can the multitude of individual, concrete labours in the Soviet system be social labour prior to any socialisation through "common expression and measure, by utilising value and its forms"? Without the latter, we cannot even speak of social labour or commodity production.

4. "This is effected by reducing the various concrete forms of the labour of workers and collective farmers to their equivalent in abstract labour, which creates the value of a commodity"

On what bases are the "various concrete forms" of labour reduced? Money? But the value of the Soviet currency is falsified, so it is not transmitting any useful, economic information about value of the commodities (including labour-power, which is itself not freely bought/sold in an open labour market, but bonded to the party-state) that stand in relation to it.

sherbu-kteer

11 months 4 weeks ago

Submitted by sherbu-kteer on May 26, 2023

On what grounds can you say that the Soviet currency was (not is!) falsified? What is a true currency? Prices were invaluable for Soviet planners, maybe functioning as mere production signals, just as prices function as mere production signals within large corporations like multi-level retail and warehousing businesses. It was a mess of an economy, of course – but a badly managed and run capitalism is no less of a capitalism than a hyper-efficient developed one.

More generally – you're presuming that the entire Soviet economy was like some kind of game of Sim City where the planning department is one entity that speaks with a unanimous voice over the entire economy. It's just not true. The planners were not gods but in a real sense subservient to this market that controlled what they did, not the other way around. Even if you want to say that the nationalised sectors of the economy represented some kind of non-capitalism, the economy of the USSR was not comprised entirely of state owned and run businesses. They bought and sold products in roubles and paid workers in roubles.

Neither was labour "bonded to the party-state" as in some kind of slavery – workers are in some sense bonded to the state in all capitalist economies. In the USSR workers were still substantially mobile even during periods where the government was most restrictive. Different employers used the "carrot" of higher wages to attract staff, it wasn't all "stick". For about twenty years between 1933 and 1955 there wasn't even a centralised body responsible for wages; in the mid-50s there were something like two thousand wage scales and thousands of wage rates for the lowest skill grade alone. After this period the government made an effort to regularise things but even then nothing essential changed. Wages for heavy industry, transport etc were higher than wages in "non-priority" areas in order to attract the best staff.

More to the absolutely essential point for me: the USSR had an enormous class of people whose livelihoods depended on the sale of their labour-power to employers in exchange for wages. These employers, whether it's a tsekhovik or kolkhoz or state factory or a housing cooperative, or whatever, survive on the exploitation of this class. And so, I feel very comfortable describing the USSR as capitalist.

Submitted by Dyjbas on May 26, 2023

Craftwork wrote:
However this sentence merely assumes without proof that products made in the Soviet system are commodities.

The proof is of course in the fact that workers in the USSR sold their labour-power for a wage in order to buy the commodities they required to reproduce their labour-power.

Craftwork wrote:
Money? But the value of the Soviet currency is falsified, so it is not transmitting any useful, economic information about value of the commodities (including labour-power, which is itself not freely bought/sold in an open labour market, but bonded to the party-state) that stand in relation to it.

Wage and price controls are used in capitalist economies. Does that "falsify" the value of currency, or is it just one of the tools that states can resort to in order to help regulate the economy? In some ways, the USSR can be looked at as a permanent war economy since 1928. You say it was "inferior to capitalism". And yet, as I pointed out earlier on, it allowed the USSR to become the world's second superpower and its model became an inspiration for other states on the capitalist periphery that needed to industrialise rapidly in order to become competitive. Past a certain point this model reaches its limits, but China also benefited from it on its way to becoming the world's current second superpower.

Marx himself identified three "cardinal facts" of capitalist production:

1) Concentration of means of production in few hands, whereby they cease to appear as the property of the immediate labourers and turn into social production capacities. Even if initially they are the private property of capitalists. These are the trustees of bourgeois society, but they pocket all the proceeds of this trusteeship.
2) Organisation of labour itself into social labour: through co-operation, division of labour, and the uniting of labour with the natural sciences.
In these two senses, the capitalist mode of production abolishes private property and private labour, even though in contradictory forms.
3) Creation of the world-market.

We can agree that the emergence of capitalism required the existence of mutually-independent, self-directed private producers. But the tendency towards centralisation and concentration of capital, identified by Marx, meant capital was increasingly being

directly endowed with the form of social capital (a capital of directly associated individuals), as distinguished from private capital, and its enterprises assume the form of social enterprises as distinguished from individual enterprises. It is the abolition of capital as private property within the boundaries of capitalist production itself.

In other words, the idea that capitalism is only capitalism in its "pure" or "laissez-faire" form, which is what you seem to imply, goes against Marx's analysis of the actual direction capitalism was taking. But I've said all this before and your only response seems to be finding yet another capitalist category that allegedly didn't "exist" in the USSR, so we're going in circles.