- Capitalism and Alternatives -

A note on the concept of 'state capitalism' and an explanation why the U.S.S.R.'s bureaucracy capitulated to capitalism

Posted by: Barry Stoller on November 07, 1999 at 22:18:02:

In Reply to: The Candy-coated, Flower-scented, Hand-holding Revolution posted by Barry Stoller on November 05, 1999 at 15:34:58:

In the above post, I stated:

No class will ever surrender its income-producing property (the means of production). No class will ever concede defeat in any sort of parliamentary election should the outcome of such an election result in the legal expropriation of their income-producing property. Not as long as they possess weapons and dependent soldiers to fight for them, that is!...

History has never suggested otherwise.

What does this infer about the collapse of the Soviet Union?

I agree with Trotsky's assessment that the U.S.S.R. was not 'state capitalism' therefore its bureaucratic elite was not a ruling 'class.'

As he put it:

The bureaucracy has neither stocks nor bonds. It is recruited, supplemented and renewed in the manner of an administrative hierarchy, independently of any special property relations of its own. The individual bureaucrat cannot transmit to his heirs his rights in the exploitation of the state apparatus...(1)

This interpretation is confirmed in David Kotz and Fred Weir's Revolution From Above: The Demise of the Soviet System:

Despite the fact that the working class did not in any meaningful sense control its economic and political destiny in the Soviet system, there were nevertheless significant socialist features of that system. One was state (and cooperative) ownership of virtually the entire means of production. This meant there were no class of property owners who could gain an income simply by virtue of owning property. Legitimate income in the Soviet system came only from work.(2)

Yes, there were bureaucratic abuses and yes, there were bureaucratic privileges in the Stalinist and post-Stalinist regimes. But they were not transferable to heirs; they weren't even secure for a lifetime (consider Khrushchev's ordinary pension). Capitalism REQUIRES fixed and dependable property relations. This requirement was never met in the U.S.S.R.

So much for the 'state capitalism' thesis...

But: why did the U.S.S.R. capitulate to capitalism?

As Gorbachev stated in Perestroika, he planned to 'make heavy cuts in the managerial apparatus' and transfer power 'from the center to the localities.' (3) Furthermore, reversing long-time policy, he insisted that 'Soviet trade unions have the right to monitor managerial compliance with labor contracts, the right to criticize management, and even the right to demand that a director who fails to comply with the legitimate interests of the working people be removed from office.'(4) In other words, Gorbachev intended to institute real democratic decentralization---as originally proposed by Lenin in Revolution and the State* in the Soviet Union ---and give real power to the people.

Kotz and Weir observed:

The Nineteenth Party Conference, prodded by Gorbachev, reinforced the call for democratization of the party. In addition to competitive elections for party officials, a limit of two five-year terms would be imposed on party officials, up through the general secretary. Party officials were to be subject to recall, not by their superiors, but by the constituents below who had elected them. Thus, power would flow up from the base, rather than down from the top as it previously had.(5)

Now it is obvious why the government of the U.S.S.R. capitulated without a fight: they had no solid base of power (inviolable property ownership) to protect.

Yet it is obvious that Gorbachev threatened the government's monopoly on (and abuse of) power.

And it is transparently obvious why the government then chose capitalism: it would secure for itself its PREVIOUS privileges on a surer footing (inviolable property rights instead of ephemeral bureaucratic rights).


* 'All officials, without exception, elected and subject to recall at any time, their salaries reduced to the level of ordinary "workmen’s wages"---these simple and "self-evident" democratic measures, while completely uniting the interests and the majority of the peasants, at the same time serve as a bridge leading from capitalism to socialism.' Lenin, 'The State and Revolution' [1917], Selected Works volume 2, International 1975, p. 269. (Lenin's quotes refer to Marx's original explication of the Paris Commune's measures for economic and political equality in The Civil War in France.)

1. Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed[1936], Pathfinder 1996, p. 249.
2. Kotz & Weir, Revolution From Above: The Demise of the Soviet System, Routledge 1997, p. 26.
3. Gorbachev, Perestroika, Harper & Row 1987, p. 91.
4. Ibid., p. 14, emphasis added.
5. Kotz & Weir, op. cit., p. 98.

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