Thread: What, if not a socialist state, was the USSR?

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  1. #1
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    Default What, if not a socialist state, was the USSR?

    [FONT=Verdana]I recently posted a question in this forum regarding neo-Trotskyist Tony Cliff’s theory of deflected permanent revolution. It was met with a comment which criticized Cliff’s belief that the USSR was state capitalist (or rather why he held that belief) and his entryism in the Labour Party. This criticism raises another question: If the Soviet Union was not a healthy workers’ state, then what was it? From what I understand (and I understand very little), there are three basic theories which attempt to answer this question.[/FONT]

    [FONT=Verdana]The first theory is that the USSR was a degenerated workers’ state. This was the theory promoted by Leon Trotsky and explained in his The Revolution Betrayed. Simply (but hopefully not incorrectly) put, this theory describes the USSR as something that was once a healthy workers’ state, but because socialist revolutions did not succeed in the more advanced capitalist countries, it degenerated from being a legitimate dictatorship of the proletariat to being a dictatorship of the bureaucratic nomenklatura, which, according to this theory, is a new caste, not a new class. According to this theory, Russia went through a social revolution which abolished private property and the bourgeoisie in Russia. Although the USSR was more historically advanced than the United States, and thus worth supporting, it was not socialist and required a political revolution to make it so.[/FONT]

    [FONT=Verdana]Another theory is that of state capitalism. In this theory, the USSR was not at all a workers’ state but was a state capitalist regime in which the new ruling class, the nomenklatura, exploited the proletariat as their bourgeoisie predecessors had done. One key difference between bourgeoisie capitalism and nomenklatura capitalism is that in the former there is private property and the state bureaucracy and the exploiter class are nominally separate while in the latter, private property has been abolished and the state bureaucracy is the ruling class. From what I have gathered from this theory the USSR was just one large factory, competing against the west just as factories would compete against other factories in capitalism.[/FONT]

    [FONT=Verdana]The third theory is Max Shachtman’s theory of bureaucratic collectivism which I know nothing about.[/FONT]

    [FONT=Verdana]Anyway, here are my questions:[/FONT]
    [FONT=Symbol]· [/FONT][FONT=Verdana]Were my analyses correct?[/FONT]
    [FONT=Symbol]· [/FONT][FONT=Verdana]Was the USSR a degenerated workers’ state, a state capitalist regime, or a bureaucratic collectivist regime and why?[/FONT]
    [FONT=Symbol]· [/FONT][FONT=Verdana]What is the difference between a caste and a class, which of those was the nomenklatura of the USSR, and why?[/FONT]
    [FONT=Symbol]· [/FONT][FONT=Verdana]Was the USSR imperialist?[/FONT]
    [FONT=Symbol]· [/FONT][FONT=Verdana]What is the nature of China, North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Laos, Libya, Syria, etc?[/FONT]
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  3. #2
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    I know, like you, nothing about the last one but I will try to give my two cents the best I can regarding your question.

    Concerning the deformed worker's state theory: I know some about this. Basically it was a deformed worker's state because the bureaucracy that plagued the CPSU(Communist Party of the Soviet Union) at the time had basically usurped power from the workers and peasants, with Stalin at it's head. The problem with this theory is that one could very well argue that the worker's never actually had true control of the country to began with, no matter what Trotsky said. They did not own the means of production, which Marx explicitly states must be the case in a Socialist state, and the peasants lives had only been slightly improved, but of course Stalin's destructive collectivization program had only made things worse. This one is debatable and I do not wish to cause a flame war.

    Concerning State Capitalism: This one is a bit trickier. In a nutshell this theory is that because the workers did not own the means of production directly, and because the state was basically in charge of all those factories and oil fields now, the state was no in charge of a semi-Socialist economy. but because of the NEP and the fact that the state still gave way to 'secret' and not so secret Capitalistic dealings(such as under Stalin and successive leaders), it was State Capitalist.

    IMHO the USSR still was Socialist, up until Stalin took power, yet deeply and gravely flawed. Its key flaws included:

    -the Proletariat did not directly control the means of production through democratically elected and formed worker councils

    -ignore my posts on that one thread. The problem was that the state had too much power, and in a unique centralized fashion to boot. Lenin actually wrote an essay concerning the negative rise of the bureaucracy from within the party later on in life. Trotsky would later argue that the party must be made inclusive, while still leading from within a one-party state, but in short be made more democratic. I don't know if this would have worked out, but the bureaucracy would have not been so powerful that is for sure

    -Extreme isolation. Because the revolutions in Europe failed, the USSR was forced into a strategic retreat and adopted the highly unpopular NEP(New Economic Policy). Engels spec. stated that it is IMPOSSIBLE to build Socialism under such isolated conditions. the revolution must be a world revolution. end of story.
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    Trotskyist theory allows for both a degenerated workers' state and a deformed workers' state. If I am correct, the former is where a once-healthy workers' states literally degenerates from the DotP to the Dot-Bureaucracy, whereas the latter is a state where the workers have never held political power and, essentially, the bureaucratic structures have originated from the top.

    I'd both lean towards, and criticise, the Trotskyist theory of Deformed Workers' State. Of course, before beginning that analysis, it's important to recognise that the USSR was most certainly and obviously State Capitalist from the period of revolution up until the late 1920s/early 1930s and the processes of collectivisation and industrialisation. This point (I don't think) is not really disputed by critics of the USSR or perhaps even its defenders.

    Back to the Trotskyist theory of the Deformed Workers' State, I am attracted to it for a few reasons:

    1. It correctly identifies that the working class has never held power in the USSR, post-revolution, with the nullifying of the Soviets and the imposition of State Capitalism in the 20s and then quite clear bureaucratic rule from the 30s onwards, manifesting in a weird Social Democratic Dictatorship sort of thing by the 70s.

    2. It shows an understanding of the also weird class relationships in the USSR. The weak working class allowed the Bolshevik leadership - perhaps already a caste in their own right by 1917-21 - to grasp and consolidate state power on the back of a revolutionary upsurge towards the end of WW1. Because the urban working class was fairly weak and remained so throughout the 1920s, the combination of the NEP and the rise of Stalin as a fearsome administrator in the party allowed for a massive increase in bureaucratic elements, withwhich the working class did not have the political maturity to defend its interests against.

    However, there are problems with this theory, of course. Namely:

    1. That the Trotskyists come up with such a theory presents problems. Trotsky himself was, obviously, a devoted Leninist and supported the USSR even into Stalin's period of rule. Thus, one must conclude that the theory of the deformed workers' state was one of two things by the post-ww2 Trots:

    a) a deviation from orthodox Trotskyism (by that I mean the views of Trotsky himself), OR
    b) a crass political maneouvre attempting to oust Stalinist elements within the USSR bureaucracy.

    Either theory reflects poorly on those proposing it. If we understand that the Trotskyists viewed the solution to the Deformed Workers' State not as social but political revolution (i.e. oust the Stalinist bureaucracy in the USSR), then we can see that in fact the theory itself was meant not as a genuine critique of the original and prevailing class character of the USSR from 1917 onwards, but a calculated political swipe at their Stalinist enemies in the USSR.

    2. The content of the theory, and the definiton 'Deformed Workers' State' are not convergent. In fact, it shows the political inadequacy of the Trotskyists who proposed it, since they view it possible to describe as a 'workers' state', a state of affairs whereby the working class has not only never held power itself, but has had a totally new political and economic superstructure imposed upon it by a bureaucratic element.

    In order to improve qualitatively upon the theory of the Deformed Workers' State, one might understand the following:

    1. A Deformed Workers' State is not actually, nor can it ever be without social revolution as opposed to political revolution, a real existing workers' state. Rather, it is something that might actually be compatible with the theory of State Capitalism. The theory of the Deformed Workers' State should be viewed as one that deals with the existence of the political and economic superstructure and its relation to the base of the same elements. The theory of the Deformed Workers' State might thus be better known, in other words, as the theory of the Deformed Workers' Revolution, in that it is possible for a genuinely revolutionary situation to exist and become hijacked, yet not possible for a workers' state of any kind to come into existence with such a deformed character from the beginning, as the Trotskyists said it could.

    2. The theory of the Deformed Workers' Revolution must thus be only a base for a further theory of social revolution. Whereas the Trotskyists who advanced the theory of the Deformed Workers' State thought that the USSR could be reclaimed to Marxian Socialism via a political overthrow of the Stalinist bureaucratic elements, the theory of the Deformed Workers' Revolution identifies the rotten nature of the whole system; the superstructure having been created not by the working class, nor in their image, nor in their interests. The entire thing is rotten and must become subject to a re-revolution by the working class. In short, one political group cannot replace another political group in order to 'reform' a deformed workers' state, as the Trotskyists said. It is clear that any state of such a character as described by the Trotskyists is categorically NOT a workers' state, and must be subject to the same fluid movement from bourgeois power relationships to genuinely proletarian, Socialistic ones, in relation to the creation of an economic and political superstructure that is created by the working class in their own interests.

    I hope my little theory makes sense.
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    The USSR was a bourgeois state, though deformed due to its unique historical role and position, where the original bourgeoisie and state was demolished by the mass action of the working-class, in alliance with the peasantry, but the subsequent economic collapse of the country, the isolation of the revolution, and the extremely poor solution to the political crisis led to the consolidation of a ruling stratum which quickly became transformed by their role in managing commodity production by alienated labor. The revolution began the most basic of tasks, but then stalled and failed, which left a military-political fighting machine in dictatorial control of the state and the forces of production, but with no recourse but to manage the separation between the laborers and the condition of labor (capital). The nature of this regime and social formation was highly atypical, owing to its evolutionary origins, but it progressively came to integrate, compromise, and recompose itself in world capital's image (its offspring in China taking this process smoothly to its logical conclusion, rather than imploding due to political centrifugal tendencies in the case of the original in 1991).

    I'd argue this process began as early as October-November 1917, and there were even hints before, was consolidated by the end of 1918, and the nails in the coffin were nailed tight by 1921. However, the total maturation of the Soviet social formation took decades, and the Stalinist rise to power, Great Purges, and the 'revolution from above' were equally important events, which arguably changed history in of themselves. The final product was arguably not reached until after World War II.

    The other regimes with model states set up in replica of the mature Stalinist (and later, post-Stalinist) polity and economy, but were nearly without exception had less vitality and stability than the original formation. All were either imposed by consolidation top-down by military and political forces or blossomed in the wreckage of failed attempts by lagging and backwards nations to modernize conventionally by the 20th c. The "production for production's sake" forced by the state at the direction of the center, combined with some social contract of services and employment, was seen by backward national elites as an attractive option for accomplishing what a conventional and decentralized integration into the world market had not accomplished.

    I recommend Daum's The Life and Death of Stalinism, by the LRP, Aufheben's state capitalism theory, Bordiga's work on the USSR, and Paresh Chattopadhyay's The Marxian Concept of Capital and the Soviet Experience.
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    What are some of the (substantive) critiques of the state capitalist theory? So far, every critique that I've come across is little more than ad hominem vis a vis Tony Cliff.
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    There are other (and in my view, more sound) theories of Soviet-style capitalism besides Tony Cliff's absurd hypothesis (he claimed the law of value was not generated within the USSR, but imposed from without upon it by the arms race and geopolitical contest with the West).
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    Soviet Russia and Capitalism

    Exploitation, with class struggle between wage-labour and capital, was at the heart of the so-called Soviet system. Re-naming the capitalist class as the “state capitalist class” makes no difference to that ugly reality. In fact it would be a step back for the SPGB to deny its own, theoretically sound, historically unique and fact-based analysis: that Soviet Russia was a capitalist country, trading on the world markets, and with a class system which exploited the working class through the wages system.
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    What are some of the (substantive) critiques of the state capitalist theory? So far, every critique that I've come across is little more than ad hominem vis a vis Tony Cliff.
    Marcel van der Linden's book Western Marxism and the Soviet Union offers a well thought out critique of most of the anti-Soviet Marxist positions on the USSR at the end of his book, including a good one on state capitalism (p.310 if you ever get a chance to pick up the book). Unfortunately the Google Books preview leaves out page 311, but you could probably still get some info here that would be useful to you.

    He argues that most of those theories only take into account one tiny part of Marx's analysis of capitalism: wage labor, and ignore that capitalism is broader social system (that needs competition, and other aspects of the system that the USSR lacked). So essentially his argument is that proponents of "state capitalism" have a limited understanding of Marx's analysis of capitalism, and that limited understanding comes out when they attempt to label the USSR as capitalist.

    Some other problems for them are in defining the capitalist class in the USSR and how many state capitalist theorists don't even bother to attempt to explain the nature of the capitalist class, and how it can be the same thing as a bureaucracy.

    I would add to der Linden's critique that the nature of wage exploitation in the USSR differed in its relation to the control of surplus value. Also der Linden doesn't seem to take into account the nature of monopoly capitalism that arose in the West and how that could fit into state capitalist theories shortcomings.

    I often recommend this book, even though I think it has some weaknesses (for example, only taking into account "anti-Soviet" thinkers in the West) which originate in the political preferences of the author, which is surprising considering the authors own "meta-analysis" of political positions and the analysis of the USSR.
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    Interestingly, who here believes that the bureaucratic 'element' that controlled the USSR from the late 20s/early 30s onwards was a class, and who believes it was a caste?

    Such a debate is probably both vital to whatever conclusion one comes to on the class character of the USSR and is also probably a very good tool for the learning forum, instead of the usual unimaginative Stalin v Trotsky debates.
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    Up until around 1925 everybody had accepted that Bolshevik Russia was state capitalism and was building or pursuing socialism through state capitalism.

    [FONT=Arial]Eg from Trotsky himself in 1922;
    ………..this is explicable in part by an incomprehension of an expression frequently used by us, that we now have state capitalism. I shall not enter into an evaluation of this term; for in any case we need only to qualify what we understand by it. By state capitalism we all understood property belonging to the state which itself was in the hands of the bourgeoisie, which exploited the working class. Our state undertakings operate along commercial lines based on the market. But who stands in power here? The working class. Herein lies the principled distinction of our state ‘capitalism’ in inverted commas from state capitalism without inverted commas.

    Up until that point arguments about state capitalism in Russia were more about whether it should be or shouldn’t be ie advocacy versus criticism of, rather than whether it was or wasn’t.

    Stalin was the first to deny that Russia was then, in 1925, state capitalism, anymore.

    By saying that when Lenin referred to Russia as state capitalism he was only referring to NEP and the concession system of renting out state capital to capitalist etc.

    That wasn’t true as Lenin advocated state capitalism, using the German example as a model, from 1918, before NEP.


    Actually later in 1933 Trotsky followed the same argument as Stalin used in 1925.

    Trotskyist and Stalinists together after that just choose to just ignore state capitalist critiques of Russia rather than address them up until Cliffs book which was the culmination of debates and doubts from elsewhere eg Bruno Rizzi.

    A non direct Cliff ad hominem might be the one from Mandel which is more of an attack on a critique from Djilas.


    with the last line being;

    When Lenin and Trotsky were in power in Russia they never prevented, to our knowledge, the ultra-left communists from defending orally and in writing the theory….[that Russia was] ….state capitalism.

    From Lenin in april 1918;

    If the words we have quoted provoke a smile, the following discovery made by the "Left Communists" will provoke nothing short of Homeric laughter. According to them, under the "Bolshevik deviation to the right" the Soviet Republic is threatened with "evolution towards state capitalism". They have really frightened us this time! And with what gusto these "Left Communists" repeat this threatening revelation in their theses and articles. . . .

    it has not occurred to them that state capitalism would be a step forward as compared with the present state of affairs in our Soviet Republic. If in approximately six months' time state capitalism became established in our
    page 335
    Republic, this would be a great success and a sure guarantee that within a year socialism will have gained a permanently firm hold and will have become invincible in our country.
    I can imagine with what noble indignation a "Left Communist" will recoil from these words, and what "devastating criticism" he will make to the workers against the "Bolshevik deviation to the right". What! Transition to state capitalism in the Soviet Socialist Republic would be a step forward?. . . Isn't this the betrayal of socialism?

    Here we come to the root of the economic mistake of the "Left Communists". And that is why we must deal with this point in greater detail.

    Firstly, the "Left Communists" do not understand what kind of transition it is from capitalism to socialism that gives us the right and the grounds to call our country the Socialist Republic of Soviets.

    Secondly, they reveal their petty-bourgeois mentality precisely by not recognising the petty-bourgeois element as the principal enemy of socialism in our country.

    Thirdly, in making a bugbear of "state capitalism", they betray their failure to understand that the Soviet state differs from the bourgeois state economically.
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