From the June 1973 issue of the Socialist Standard
Recently trade between Russia and America has grown immensely. In May last year talks were held in Moscow and credit agreements, barter deals and other trade deals are now under way.
The Moscow Narodny Bank has underwritten a recent Ford share issue. Occidental Petroleum of Los Angeles has signed a barter deal worth £3,300m. in American fertilizers and Soviet chemicals. Other deals are under discussion and may well be finalized before this appears in print.
Such trade is perfectly natural, ordinary, everyday and unremarkable if you, like us, regard Russia as a state capitalist country, part of the world capitalist system. Socialists have in fact the only analysis of Russian society which fits the facts. The only correct explanation of Russian trade with Western capitalist countries is that Russia is also a capitalist country.
Marx outlined the salient characteristics of capitalism as commodity production and wage labour. These characteristics are just as evident in Russia as in America: a fact conveniently ignored by all those obsessed and enthusiastic supporters of that “workers’ paradise”, that star in the east, who keep trying to demonstrate how different it all is there, “over the rainbow”.
Since Russia is a commodity-producing country, where goods are made for sale with a view to profit, we do not find it surprising that the people who control Russia’s economy discover the usefulness of foreign trade.
Yet their ideology — perhaps this is a euphemism for the mixed-up opportunism and dogmatism which pass for ideology among the readers of Pravda — their ideology lays down dogmatically that Russia has a “socialist” economy and is quite different from capitalism. So how do the Russian rulers themselves explain the existence of trade between the Western capitalist countries and their own “socialist” country?
In Pravda, the official journal of the CPSU, there appeared on April 3rd an article by V. Alkhimov of the USSR Ministry of External Trade. Under the headline A Useful Step he asks: “What is the significance of the [trade and credit] agreements recently concluded between the USSR and the USA?”
Then, fruitlessly poking about in history, he invokes the holy name of Lenin as one who “drew up a broad programme of business collaboration with capitalist countries, including the field of credit transactions”. He bows to the Holy Trinity of Eisenhower, Nixon and Rockefeller, and invokes the august presences of the Chase Manhattan Bank and the Export-Import Bank of the USA as godparents of the new trade, barter and credit agreements — worth, he says, up to $225m.
He further sanctifies these agreements with a quote from Brezhnev (21 Dec. 1972): “The implementation [of the credit agreements] may constitute the basis of large scale, long-term collaboration in this field. Moreover it would also favour an improvement of the political climate between the USSR and the USA, and would facilitate a further advance towards the chief aim of the foreign policy of the Soviet Union — a lasting peace,” (Our emphasis).
Their "chief aim”, in these guarded phrases, is certainly not Socialism or Communism, an end to exploitation through the wage-labour system, and an end to the profit-motive society based on commodity production. For by no stretch of the imagination could it be said that more trade, barter and credit agreements — whether with governments, private individuals or trading combines — have any effect except to promote the interests of capital accumulation.
Exploitation and wage-labour? These will continue in both hemispheres. Commodity production — producing things only when there is a profitable market and not because they are needed? This pernicious prostitution of man’s productive powers will continue unabated. But Socialism, production for use, common ownership, cooperation in place of competition? Not a hope.
V. Alkhimov has nothing to say on this for Pravda’s readers, no statement by Nixon or Brezhnev, Lenin or Rockefeller, and all he himself will venture is a guarded agreement with an inoffensive and meaningless remark by Nixon’s special assistant Peterson. As a peach of a diplomatic platitude it deserves recording: "Trade is the cement which strengthens the normalisation of relations between our countries”.
Business as usual, in short. The Kremlin and the White House have so much in common, so very much.