From the July 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard
It is our contention that Socialism has not been established at any time in any part of the world and that there is no basis for supporting the various regimes which claim to be socialist or advancing towards Socialism.
The oldest and most well-known of such regimes is that which governs Russia and, indirectly, a host of East European countries. This regime came to power with the so-called October Revolution at 1917, an event which was little more than a straightforward takeover by a well-organized minority group, the Bolsheviks, who have held political power to the present day. They have consistently claimed that the working class rules in Russia, in contrast to the capitalist west, a claim which we have treated with the contempt it deserves.
Despite the adulation with which the revolution was received by many leftists in the West, the Socialist Party of Great Britain maintained from the start that Socialism could not possibly be established in Russia because of the extremely backward nature of the country economically and because of the lack of Socialist ideas among the working-class throughout the world. Everything which has happened since 1917 has proved the truth of this stand. The organized brutality brought about in the process of industrialization, the oppression of any semblance of democracy and the emergence of the country as a giant capitalist power armed with a full army of the latest weapons has led to a growing disillusionment with Russia in the left wing.
But the Left gropes in the dark for an explanation as to what went wrong. Some see the corruption of one man, Stalin, as responsible for the failure of Socialism to develop; others, wanting to have their cake and eat it, see elements of Socialism in Russia which they attribute to the revolution, and other “deformities” which "the bureaucracy” is alleged to be responsible for. However, it is totally false to believe that the establishment of Socialism depends upon having the right leadership; given the conditions which existed in Russia, capitalism in some form was the only possible outcome of the revolution.
The type of society which emerged in Russia is best described as state capitalism. This is different in form from western capitalism, but is not fundamentally different and exhibits all the basic features at the capitalist mode of production. According to the Russian Constitution the means of production are owned by the whole community; however, this is meaningless in practice, and if ownership is defined as effective rights over the use and products of property, then the top political and industrial executives are in the same position as the capitalist class in the Western countries. Because this form of ownership is not legally recognized by the issue of personal property titles, this dominant section of the ruling class do not own as individuals, but as a class. There exists therefore what Djilas described as a “new class” enjoying a de facto ownership and control of the means of production. There are also many individually wealthy people in Russia such as private entrepreneurs, legal and illegal.
The working class in Russia is in the same basic position as in the West, as propertyless and having to sell their labour for a wage in order to live. In terms of democratic rights, the Russian workers are far worse off than their counterparts in the West, having no trade unions or political parties of their own. This is mainly because of the very centralized nature of state capitalism which makes for a more homogenous and united ruling class, less open to the kind of splits which make it possible for the working class to play off one section against another. This in itself is enough to expose the myth that the type of society which exists in Russia is in any way a step forward for the working-class.
Any logical analysis of Russia must conclude that it is a capitalist society and therefore to be opposed by Socialists along with all capitalism. Capitalism does not stand or fall on the existence of a stock market or any other superfluous characteristic. The hallmarks of the capitalist system are wage-labour, exchange and capital, all of which exist in Russia. Even the distinction between state capitalism and the private capitalism of the West is not as sharp as is usually made out. In Russia, about 25 per cent of capital is privately operated, while all Western economies have been the subject of increasing state intervention. With the need of the Russian economy to trade with other capitalist economies, the West and the East are becoming daily more similar and recently we have seen the visit of the American president to Moscow. However, the dealings and manoeuvrings of the Russian rulers are not our concern. For the working-class, there is only one solution—the establishment of Socialism.
B. K. McNeeney