September 1956 issue of the Socialist Standard
André Philip, who recently visited Russia with a delegation of members of the 'Socialist Party of France," wrote up an account of what he saw and heard for the Manchester Guardian (his articles appeared in the. issues of 2,3,6,7 and 8, August). On August 8 the Guardian also published an article dealing with an attack on Philip which appeared in the Moscow Pravda on 28 July, 1956. Pravda devoted a quarter of its space on that day to criticism of what Philip had said about Russia on his return to France. Above all Pravda was angry because Philip denied that there is Socialism in Russia, describing it as "State Capitalism."
Pravda's argument to prove that Russia has Socialism is as follows:—
"In the Soviet Union the means of production are the property of the working people. Since there are no capitalists, how can there be any talk of State capitalism? There is no capitalist ownership; there are no exploiting classes. This is the complete triumph of Socialism."Pravda goes on to lecture Philip on the meaning of the word Socialism that has been "accepted by Socialist thought throughout the world for more than a century." This meaning, according to the Russian newspaper, is “the liquidation of the private ownership of the means of production and the transfer of the means of production to public ownership.”
The thing that must strike the Socialist on reading this stuff is that Pravda writes just like some woolly-minded member of the Labour Party trying to prove that since the railways and coal mines have been “transferred to public ownership" that they are now the property of the working class. We have hard it all before, from the MacDonalds, Attlees and Bevans, and now we have to hear it from the Communists.
Our first point in reply to Pravda is to deny the truth of the statement about what Socialist thought has accepted for a century. What exists on Russia is not in the least like the definition of Socialism used by Socialists. In Russia production and distribution are largely in the hands of the Government as are the coal mines and railways, etc., here. They are operated to produce commodities for sale at a profit, and backing them financially is the very large Russian national debt owned by large and small bondholders. There is in Russia as great (or even greater) inequality of income as in this country though not as great inequality of ownership of accumulated wealth. Also though Russia has private trading it has not the British company system of shareholders.
This is State capitalism just as are the nationalised industries in Britain. And when did Socialists ever describe it as Socialism? We can of course answer for ourselves that the S.P.G.B. never did so on any occasion since its formation in 1904.
And if, as Pravda maintains, Socialists for a century have used the name Socialism to mean what exists in Russia why is this flatly contradicted in Communist works published before this distortion of the word had been decided upon. Let the Communists look for example at "A Short Course of Economic Science," by A. Bogdanoff, published in 1923, by the Communist Party of Great Britain. Here we were informed that Socialism is “the highest stage of society we can conceive" (p. 391), that “under Socialism the question of profits will disappear in production also” (p. 380); and that “with the establishment of Socialism, all taxes, including the progressive income tax, will become superfluous" (p. 295).
Perhaps Pravda will now tell us how it squares the above, which is what Communists used to say, with what they say now about alleged Socialism in Russia, for not even Pravda can deny that an elaborate system of differential taxation exists (including a profits tax) and that the State concerns are required to make a profit or show good reason for not doing so.
Pravda might also recall that back in the nineteen-twenties Lenin was advocating State Capitalism in Russia (see his “Chief Task of our Times”) and not pretending that it is Socialism as does Pravda now.
Before we leave the subject a word to André Philip. He is quite right to point out that the Russian system is not Socialism but State Capitalism, but is he always so clear-headed and outspoken about the muddle-headed propaganda carried on by his own party in France?