Friday, December 27, 2013

The State and its abolition (Part 4)

From the Spring 1985 issue of the World Socialist

3. Notes on the State

Central to socialist thinking on the nature of the capitalist state is the concept of class. Drawing on the writings of Marx, socialists argue that we live in a class-based society, in which a small minority own and control the means of producing wealth to the exclusion of the rest of the population.

Specifically, we live in a society which is divided on class lines: the owners of capital, the capitalist class, and the sellers of labour power, the working class. This relationship between buyer and seller of labour power is necessarily antagonistic and this antagonism expresses itself from time to time in struggle over the distribution of the social product. Because of this socialists argue that the state cannot remain neutral — a passive observer of the class struggle. Rather we say that the state must intervene on the side of the economically dominant or owning class, because the state is controlled directly or indirectly by this class. This puts us at odds with the views of the "pluralists" who argue that power is diffused throughout a plurality of institutions in society and that the state is neutral in relation to the class struggle. But although it is possible to demonstrate the unequal division of power and wealth in society, and hence show up the crucial weaknesses of this theory, we still do not arrive at an answer to the central question of what makes the modern state capitalist.

Ralph Miliband's study, The State in Capitalist Society, that came out in 1969 signalled a general dissatisfaction in academic circles with the original Marxist writings on the state and this was reinforced in subsequent studies. It was concluded that Marx had not developed a coherent account of the nature of the capitalist state, particularly in regard to its role in the process of capital accumulation and the reproduction of capitalist social relations; indeed, that many of the references Marx makes to the capitalist state were contradictory and theoretically confused: at times he referred to the state as an instrument of class rule; and then, more subtly, as a social regulator moderating and channelling social conflict; again, he talked of the state as parasitic, that is, the private property of individuals; and, finally, as epiphenomenon (simple surface reflection) of a system of property relations and resulting economic class struggle.

The claim that the state is simply an instrument of class power used by the economically dominant class to dominate subordinate classes is highly problematical and (possibly) ahistorical. Although the ruling class owns and controls the material and mental means of production, one cannot automatically assume that it thereby controls, runs, dictates to, or is predominant in the state as well. The ruling class is not a monolithic power bloc; it is fragmented, with differing and, at times, conflicting interests. Moreover, in certain historical circumstances, the economically dominant class has not held state power, for example, in nineteenth century Prussia where the aristocracy (the junkers) controlled the state although it was a declining economic force.

Numerous problems also arise with the view of the state as a factor of cohesion in society, regulating the struggle between the classes, either by repression or concession. The main difficulty with this approach is that it suggests that the conflict over the social product is resolvable, and if taken to its logical conclusion it precludes the possibility of revolution as the state, in its role as class mediator, can act to defuse crises arising out of the contradictions within the capitalist mode of production. It is also very much akin to the liberal view of the state as "nightwatchman". Likewise, the parasitic approach can only lead to demands for a democratisation rather than the abolition of government and, perhaps, this is why Marx dropped references to it in his later writings.

The ephiphenomenon aspect of Marx's views on the state is rooted in the metaphor of base and superstructure, that is, that the state in its legal and political forms is simply a reflection of the economic base of society. This implies that the state is a passive instrument in the class struggle or, at best, is a tool of the ruling class. To adopt such a position leads one either to the reductionism of the equation that class power equals state power, or, to ignore the role the state has played, and is playing, in organising the labour process and in creating the conditions for further capital accumulation. The epiphenomenon view thus places a straightjacket on the activities of the state, divesting it of any autonomy or freedom of action, something which is at odds with the historical development of capitalism.

Dissatisfaction with the classical Marxist texts on the nature of the state led to a reformulation of theoretical perspectives by a new generation of Marx students. The outcome has been by no means theoretically homogenous, in fact, a variety of perspectives have emerged which we will now attempt to synthesise.

In Marxism and Politics, Miliband offers three possible, but not necessarily interrelated, explanations concerning the relationship of the ruling class to the state. The first of these concentrates on the personnel of the state. Miliband argues that those who control the state share a similar or common social background and are linked together by economic and cultural ties. These links result in a cluster of common ideological and political attitudes, as well as common perspectives and values. Thus those who run the state apparatus are by virtue of their circumstances favourably disposed to those who own and control the economic means of life. Empirical evidence would tend to bear out some of Miliband's assumptions. In The State in Capitalist Society, he provides an impressive array of detailed information which chronicles the interconnections between the elite groupings in society. The state is largely run by people from similar social backgrounds and educational establishments, in spite of numerous Labour governments and so-called working class occupational mobility. But this approach inevitably leads to the reductionism mentioned earlier as it does not explain how the state is capitalist. Crucially it does not amount to a Marxist theory of the state as it discusses the state in isolation from socio-economic forces. Miliband's work serves only as a rebuttal to pluralist assumptions about political democracy.

To buttress the obvious shortcomings of this approach Miliband introduces an economic dimension to his analysis. This centres on the role of capital as a pressure group. Here capital, particularly "monopoly capital", uses its position as the major controller of wealth and, hence, of investment to demand the ear of government. The fear in governing circles of multinationals redirecting investment and causing large numbers of job losses ensures that they listen sympathetically to them. In some accounts of this process, particularly that of Baran and Sweezey and the "Communist" Party, the state and monopoly capital become fused; the former acting as a pliant tool of the latter. These views ignore the fact that the state often acts against the interests of certain sections of the capitalist class. The state passes reforms in the social and economic fields which capital dislikes, for example, high levels of unemployment benefit and spending on welfare services in general. Moreover this approach reduces the state to an epiphenomenal position, that is, the nature of the state is drawn from the immanent tendencies of capital accumulation. It also disregards the role of class struggle in shaping the way the state responds to certain issues and problems.

The problematic nature of the above approach and its corollary that small and medium size capitals should unite with the working class in a struggle to overthrow monopoly capitalism has been severely criticised by "structural Marxists" such as Althusser and Poulantzas, and this leads us to the third explanation offered by Miliband. Structuralists argue that "the state is an instrument of the ruling class because given its insertion in the capitalist mode of production (CMP) it cannot be anything else". Thus it matters little who constitutes the personnel of the state, or what pressure is exerted by capitalists, as the actions of the state are determined by the "nature and requirements of the CMP". In other words, a capitalist economy has its own logic or rationality to which any government or state must sooner or later submit, regardless of its ideological or political preferences; the existence of the capitalist mode of production constrains the state to act in ways favourable to the expansion and preservation of the economic system and against the interests of the working class.

The structuralist view has been further refined by the work of the "capital logic" school of Berlin. This approach derives the character of the capitalist state from the categories of the capitalist economy, the process of production and accumulation. The state is seen as a political force which is required to secure the reproduction of wage labour—to the extent that this cannot be done through market forces—and to ensure the subordination of labour to capital. This requires the state to intervene in areas such as factory legislation, supervision of trade union activities and social welfare. In this role the state is prepared to act not only against the working class, but also against individual capitals or fractions of capital which threaten the interests of capital in general.

Although it has a persuasive logic to it the structuralist view has a number of crucial weaknesses. Firstly, how constraining are the constraints? If total, then the outcome of that totality is economic determinism, as it would lead to a situation where human beings are deprived of any freedom of action or choice. Man however is not simply the product of economic forces, but a complex organism, whose actions are determined by many competing factors such as tradition, religion (where appropriate), altruism, nationalism, and so on. Secondly, and this follows from the first point, if we accept the structuralist position on the state, then we preclude consideration of how workers in struggle have affected the nature of the state and how it reacts to working class demands. In short, we could dismiss the last 150 years or so of the class struggle.

Similarly, the capital logic approach not only fails to account for the origins of the capitalist state, but fails to show convincingly how it can operate as the ideal collective capitalist. In short, how does it determine, and by what means, what are the "best" interests of capital? Moreover, in this scheme everything that occurs in a capitalist society apparently corresponds to the needs of capital accumulation, and even where modified by class struggle the interests of capital are always realised. The whole theory is deterministic, and can only provide a partial analysis to the central issue of what makes the state capitalist.

These explanations, although more systematic and coherent than some earlier Marxists' writings on the state, fail to explain the central issue of what makes the modern state a class state: the state of the capitalist class. The main reason behind this is the reductionism of the approaches. This means that a more adequate theoretical approach is necessary; one which takes account of the actual historical development of the state and how this development has been influenced by the balance of class forces at specific historical moments, and appreciates that the state can and does enjoy a fairly high degree of autonomy and independence in the manner of its operation as a class state. After all if the state is to act in the interests of the capitalist class it must be free to come to a decision as to what actually constitutes those interests. In doing so it may have to favour one fraction of capital against another in order to preserve or promote the long or short term interests of the sum total of the system's parts. This explains why particular social and economic policies are possible even though powerful economic groups are opposed to them.

This approach also allows for an account to be taken of the way the working class, through trade unions and other defence mechanisms, have affected the development of the state. For, given the nature of competitive capitalism, workers are forced to resist the encroachments of capital. The state must react in some positive way to workers' (reformist) demands. Failure to do so would lead to civil strife and political instability. Thus state forms and institutions, without this in any way threatening underlying capitalist social relations, are partly the outcome of working class struggle and cannot simply be attributed to the interests of the ruling class or a mere reflection of the changing needs of the capitalist mode of production.

Socialists, then, do not accept the pluralist view that the state is the property of no single class and that because of this it responds to the demands of all sections of society. We recognise that the modern state is comprised of a flexible set of institutions which operate subtly and is, ultimately, the executive committee for the capitalist class.
Bill Knox

The State and its abolition (Part 3)

From the Spring 1985 issue of the World Socialist

2. A classless, stateless world

Running global human society without the machinery of states is regarded by some as being as unachievable as radio and hi-fi systems were to some people before their invention. Socialists observe that the coercive governmental machinery of the state has not always been a feature of human society but was created necessarily in a phase in our history and will, with equal necessity, be abolished with the establishment of socialism.

For the greater part of the history of human society social affairs have not been regulated by governments. The state arose from the need to keep class antagonisms in check. The economically most powerful social class becomes the politically dominant class through the state and uses its machinery as a means of holding down and exploiting the oppressed class. "The ancient state was, above all, the state of the slave owners for holding down the slaves, just as the feudal state was the organ of the nobility for holding down the peasant serfs and bondsmen, and the modern representative state is an instrument for exploiting wage labour by capital." (Engels, Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State)

When the majority of men and women —the wealth producers — democratically act to put the means of life into the hands of the whole community there will no longer be a social need for the coercive machinery of the state. The majority of people will no longer have to suffer government by a minority. The government of people will be replaced by the administration of things. This will mean that the institutions now used by the state to keep the working class in check — the judiciary, laws, police forces and prisons — will become socially redundant. Similarly, the organised force used by the state to protect the interests of territories and markets of its wealth owners—armies, navies and air forces — will also become socially unnecessary. "The society that organises production anew on the basis of the free and equal association of the producers will put the whole state machine where it will then belong: in the museum of antiquities side by side with the spinning wheel and the bronze axe." (Engels, Anti-Duhring)

Organising the world on the basis of a society in which people will contribute according to their skills and inclinations and take according to their self-determined needs is an attractive idea. A world society undivided by national boundaries and free from war and famine. A world society unfettered by the rationing system of money. Is it possible? Socialists contend that not only is the establishment of socialism immediately possible, but that it is an urgent necessity if we are to avoid the potentially horrific sorts of destruction which the continuation of capitalism would render probable.

There are several ways in which the practicability of socialism can be doubted but basically these doubts arise in three areas of inquiry. First, will "human nature" permit a classless world without government? Second, will the resources of the planet be sufficient to support a society based on producing goods and services simply to meet all human needs and third, do we have sufficiently advanced systems of communication, organisation and distribution to cater for running the world for all humanity?

Does "human nature" stand as a barrier to a world without governments? In answering this question, socialists would draw a distinction between human nature and human behaviour. There are a few characteristics of humans which could be described as "natural" in the sense that they are anatomical or physiological features of all people irrespective of the social system that they live in. Reflex actions, like blinking to water the eyes, stereoscopical colour vision, bi-pedal locomotion, prehensile manipulation and so forth are examples of this sort of feature and they are relatively fixed characteristics. Also, of course, the needs for food, drink, clothes and shelter. Contrasted with this are a great variety of behaviour patterns which are socially learnt. Behaviour traits instilled in young people by families, the indoctrination of education systems and the aggression and murderous techniques taught by military forces are all examples of this sort of socially conditioned behaviour. In commercial society we are steeped in a competitive mentality from a tender age but this learnt behaviour conflicts with an essential characteristic of human society: that of co¬operation. As a society we are a highly integrated body of entities and we all rely upon one another. Our very advanced division of labour means that we are all, to some degree, mutually dependent and require each other's co-operation even in capitalism. Because socialism will abolish classes — the relationship of employer and employee — and create a social equality of human beings, it will harmonise our social relationships with the way that we need to work in order to survive. It is worth observing that even in today's competitive world we are all co-existing in an intricate network of co-operation. Picture the seething mass of work going on in one of today's big cities — it would grind to a halt in one second without the continued and very complex co-operation amongst millions of people.

Primitive humankind co-operated for tens of thousands of years without government, but apart from this evidence that we are not organically predisposed to be ruled by a minority, there are many examples to corroborate the versatility of our nature. Anthropological examinations of Red Indian, Aboriginal and Eskimo societies all testify to the fact that we can and have organised society on a democratic basis. Many modern societies which organised themselves on a communistic, democratic principle (like the Kalahari Bushmen, or Kung people, of southern Africa) are now being sucked into the commercial, competitive world. They are being driven from the lands that they inhabit as it is "purchased" by developers, and are forced to seek a living by wage-slavery. Another example of this, occurring now, concerns the Panare Indians who live in the Orinoco basin in Venezuela. They have enjoyed life, until recently, in 38 communities living on the basis of "from each according to ability, to each according to need". They have no divisions of class and no status discrimination on the grounds of age or gender. Ideas of competition and violence are entirely antithetical to them. Their stress-free lifestyle is now being shaken by an American airborne evangelical group, the New Tribes Mission. Their lives are being smitten with religious indoctrination and all sorts of sinister devices are being used to make them docile, ashamed of their lifestyles, and to go in search of employment in the local mines.

In a rat-race we do acquire rat-like propensities but even now they do not dominate us and more importantly, they are subject to change if and when we decide to abolish the sort of social environment which causes them.

The latest United Nations estimate of the world population is 4.7 billion. Are the resources of the world enough to support everyone? Today there is a massive unmet social need as a result of a social system which only produces goods if there is the prospect of selling them on the market for a profit. These unmet needs range from the horrors of mass starvation (according to Oxfam 500 million men, women and children go hungry every day) and homelessness to the relative impoverishment of all the wealth-producers. Alongside these needs capitalism presents in all countries the conspicuous over-consumption of a small elite, lakes of wine and milk and mountains of food (the European Common Market has a current butter stockpile of approaching 600,000 tonnes) and gigantic resources being pumped into socially useless or destructive ends.

Military spending now totals close to the equivalent of £1,000,000,000 across the world every 24 hours. This greatly exceeds the resources needed to meet the United Nations targets (idealistic as they are under the profit system) of providing everyone with adequate food, sanitary water, health care and education. UNICEF, working in 112 countries, had a total income of £171 million in 1981. This is the equivalent of the expenditure the world makes on the military forces every 4 hours and ten minutes (World Military and Social Expenditures 1982). It is an unchangeable priority of states in capitalism to put the needs of the Death Industry before basic human requirements. In a socialist society all of the ingenuity, human effort and resources which are now pumped into militarism will be donated instead to producing goods and services which are useful and enjoyable. On a similar point, consider all of the materials and human resources which are spent today on the necessary workings of the commercial system which would be liberated in socialism to be devoted to more rewarding sorts of work. The millions of men and women who are today engaged in running the system that exploits them in banking, insurance, commerce, tax revenue, everything connected with the production and running of prisons and the police forces, would be freed to help take part in the task of providing the sort of things that people really want.

Julian Simon and Herman Kahn in their book The Resourceful Earth produce carefully researched evidence to demonstrate that the planet enjoys much greater resources than are currently being tapped. Their writing is, ironically, aimed at advocating a free market economy with minimal economic controls — the very principles which produce such great hardship now — but their evidence is nevertheless useful. As they observe, the scaremongery about dwindling resources is not new. People have always been predicting that one or other natural resource will be exhausted. It was once a respected view that oil reserves would dry up in the 1880s. In practice these predictions encourage discoveries of new reserves or the development of new substitutes for the threatened material.

Capitalism only ever aims to produce on a scale matching what people can afford to buy, not what they actually need. For this reason many agricultural techniques are underdeveloped compared with our technological abilities.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) still sees great scope for expanded production. It reported this year that, using current Western farming methods, the world could produce enough food for up to 33,000,000,000 people, seven times the world population. Using somewhat less sophisticated farming methods, 15,000,000 people could be fed and, even if the whole world relied on primitive farming methods, using no fertilizers or pesticides, traditional seeds and no soil conservation methods, the present world population could still be comfortably fed. ("In Defence of Population Growth", New Scientist 4 August 1984)
Do we have adequate systems of communication, organisation and distribution to operate a global classless society? As with the questions of "human nature" and the earth's resources, the answer to this question is partly apparent now. Because it is necessary for capitalism's international trade, the world is already a highly integrated network of communications, travel and distribution. In this sense, capitalism is pregnant with socialistic organisation. With its booms and slumps, shortages and gluts, disruptive wars and embittered industrial disputes, capitalism is a chaotic, anarchic social system. In socialism production and distribution will be democratically planned. Society will not be told by a minority that food cannot be produced because there is no market for it. We shall harness all of the technology that capitalism has produced, discover exactly what our needs are, and where, and then plan production to meet them. Computer systems, current electronic stocktaking devices used in supermarkets and the astonishing technology of communications and travel used today by military forces and banks will all play their part. And think how much easier it will be to simply find out how many people in what places need what goods, than the task of market researchers of discovering who might buy what in the uncertainties of the market.

Without nations and governments, how will this production be planned? The world administration for production for use will need to satisfy the requirements of historical continuity, practical necessity and democracy. That is, it will need to adapt existing social organisations, develop them in a way to deal with the practical problems which need to be solved and to permit democracy in all decision-making. Socialists are currently in a minority and it will be for a majority to make the final decisions about how socialism will work. We can however still make some practical suggestions today. Decision-making could operate on three sorts of geographical level: the local level (corresponding to current local government areas), the regional level and the global level. Decisions about social policy and planning, whatever the scale of their intended effect, would need to originate in a locality. They could be raised by individuals, groups or local representatives of a specialist global group, connected with, for instance, health or the ecology. A policy proposal intended to affect society generally would need to pass successfully through all three levels of decision-making and then be implemented at local levels across the world.

The decision-making process in socialism will be such that everyone will have access to any information they need to make the decision and the opportunity to express views on the issue to everyone else. In the age of advanced telecommunications and the teletext this will not present any significant problems. Decisions only affecting a locality will probably be participated in by people living or working in that locality and similarly with regional decisions. We could make great use of the various information-gathering systems and expert organisations which have been developed by capitalism. Take one example, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. It is organised in 147 countries and has 4,000 planners and technicians all over the globe. It produces scientific papers which collate research material from all over the world and maintains a library of knowledge on food, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, nutrition and conservation. It keeps a census of world agricultural resources. In 1978 it completed a soil map of the entire world using a variety of techniques from aerial photography to satellite surveillance. This combines details of climates and soils and builds up a picture of potential world food production.

Socialists propose the immediate establishment of a classless, global society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of living by the whole community. This sort of society can only be created by a majority of people consciously and democratically acting together to take on the responsibility of running the world for ourselves. Today's reality is, very often, yesterday's vision:
It is a dream, you may say, of what has never been and will never be; true it has never been, and therefore, since the world is alive and moving yet, my hope is the greater that it one day will be: true it is a dream; but dreams have before now come about of things so good and necessary to us that we scarcely think of them more than of the daylight, though once people had to live without them, without even the hope of them. (William Morris, The Lesser Arts, 1877)

Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for and no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace
You may say that I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be one.
(John Lennon, Imagine, 1972)
Gary Jay 

The State and its abolition (Part 2)

From the Spring 1985 issue of the World Socialist

I. The state of capitalism

The popular conception of the state is that of a kind of neutral pendulum which can be swung in different directions in accordance with the philosophy of the dominant political party. In other words, that the degree of authority which the state institutions wield, the levels and methods of coercion and oppression which these institutions employ in practising this authority, and whether this authority is put to "good" or "bad" purposes (e.g. whether it is used to inaugurate or maintain a "Welfare State" or a police state dictatorship) is determined by the aims and aspirations, or indeed, sometimes even by the personalities within the party which constitutes the government.

To a certain extent this is true. Outwardly, the modern state takes many different forms, and is coercive and oppressive to varying degrees. The totalitarian state, whether of the "left" or "right", is undoubtedly more oppressive than the "democratic state" in as much as those who control it (regardless of how they came to do so) have to rely more heavily on the services of the police and army, the political allegiance of its "officials" and subjugation of its citizens.

To view the state merely as a passive, autonomous body, ready to be put to the service of "good" or "bad", to be steered in the "right" or "wrong" direction or to be manipulated at will by political philanthropists for the benefit of the population, or by tyrants for the benefit of themselves, is to imagine that the state exists in a kind of social and political void. It is to accept the assertion that the state (i.e. the armed forces, police, legal system, civil service, etc.) acts in isolation, uninfluenced by the social conditions and social relations within which it operates.

No matter what its form, or how its government is chosen, the state does not, and can not, act in isolation. It is a machine for the domination of one class by another, an instrument of class rule, and therefore can not be neutral, passive or independent.

The modern capitalist state with its armies, its police forces, its laws, rules and regulations for the defence of property, did not appear suddenly overnight. Neither is it the reflection of some innate propensity of the human race to be aggressive and unco-operative, as the more "holy" apologists of capitalism maintain. The state has neither a natural nor unnatural existence; it is the product of class conflicts, and as such, it has been forged in the social furnace of the three great epochs of class-divided society, chattel slavery, feudalism, and finally the world-wide system of society which we know today, capitalism.

It was the division of society into classes — a property owning minority and a propertyless majority — which gave rise to the need for the state. For, in order for the dominant class to maintain its property rights and to appropriate the surplus product of the dominated class, it was essential that it had at its command a coercive apparatus to enforce its laws and regulations. This coercive apparatus, consisting of a certain group of people set apart from society and engaged solely in ruling, administering, subjugating and oppressing in the interests of the monopolising class, is called the state.

As the social relations of equality and freedom (arising from the common ownership of the instruments of production) of primitive society were eroded, and replaced with the new class relations of owner/non-owner, exploiter/ exploited, robber/robbed, the need for the minority class of property owners to develop and maintain a permanent apparatus of coercion took root. Chattel slavery which evolved from primitive society, was the first definite form of class society, and it is in this epoch in which we find the embryonic form of the modern state. After chattel slavery came feudalism, in which the class relations changed from that of slave-owners and slaves, to feudal landlords and peasant serfs. The class rule of a minority did not change, however, and the consequent domination and dependence of the majority of people in society remained.

Historically, just as chattel slavery gave way to feudalism and ushered in the rule of the class of landlords, so feudalism gave way to capitalism and inaugurated the rule of a new class of exploiters — the owners of capital. As world trade developed on an increasingly grand scale and the circulation and power of money grew with the exchange of commodities, the capitalists superseded the power of the feudal landlords and became the new ruling class. This economic revolution, in which the capitalists instigated their own mode of production, did not involve the disruption of the state to any great degree, as the function of the state is to protect property, irrespective of who owns it or whether that property is composed of land, people, factories or machinery.

As capitalism advanced against the feudal system and became decisively established, so also did the social conditions and relations which enabled it to flourish. Capitalist society proclaimed the new ideals of freedom, liberty and equality for everyone before the law. It proclaimed the right of property ownership to be the right of every member of society. And it maintained that the dark old days of slavery and serfdom, in which "the sword ruled without shame and club-law prevailed", when the division of society into classes severed the majority from the means of life and subjected it to the tyranny of a minority class of parasites, were no more.

Capitalist society declared that the state had miraculously conjured away the reasons for its own existence and had been transformed from an instrument of domination and coercion into the guarantor of this new-found liberty and freedom. Such were, and still are, the ideals of capitalist society. The reality for the majority of people was, and still is, very different. Even a momentary glance at the history of capitalism should suffice to convince any member of the working class who has emerged from the capitalist indoctrination clinics (schools, colleges, universities, to use their official titles) with their thought processes still relatively untwisted what this liberty and freedom meant in practice. "Liberty" meant the liberty of the capitalists to legally exploit and rob the new class of (wage) slaves, the working class. And "freedom" meant the freedom of the workers to starve if they didn't fancy the idea of being exploited or robbed. Or, if they protested that "the game wasn't straight" the freedom to be beaten, jailed or transported by the "guardians" of freedom — the laws and forces of the capitalist state.

From the time when the last peasant serfs were being forced from the land and herded into factories as wage-labourers up until the present-day, capitalism has not changed to any significant degree. Outwardly some changes have occurred, in that the capitalist system now dominates over almost the entire face of the earth, while its division into national segments has become more decisive. But the essential dynamic of capitalist production, the extraction of surplus value (profit) by means of the wages system, and the function of the state within each national segment in protecting property (regardless of the nationality of the owner) and perpetuating the rule of the dominant capitalist class has remained unchanged.

In capitalism (including those countries like Russia, China and Cuba in which the ruling elite performs the role of private capitalists) society is divided into two classes. Those who monopolise the means of wealth production and distribution, i.e. land, factories, mills, offices, transport facilities and raw materials etc. (the capitalist class) and who constitute an insignificant minority, and those who own no substantial property (the working class) and who make up the vast majority of the world's population. Capitalism is a world-wide system of production for profit. In other words, the capitalist class, as owners of the means of production, will only allow production to take place on condition that they can sell what is produced on the market to realise a profit. A number of things result from this, which render the exploitation of the working class and its oppression by the state, inevitable.

The fact that production in capitalism is geared towards making profits means the very foundations of capitalism rest on the exploitation of the working class. This exploitation of the workers in capitalism is accomplished by means of the "money trick" — the wages system. As the working class throughout the world has no substantial property of its own, in order to live its members have to sell their mental and physical energies (their labour power) to the capitalists in return for a wage or salary. In effect, this means the capitalist class has virtual control over the lives of the workers. The reason for this is that not only do the capitalists control the activities of the workers during the period for which they have bought their labour power (the hours of employment) but how the workers spend their "free" time is also almost entirely dependent on whether they are earning a wage or not, how much they earn, the number of hours they work, how hard and fast they are compelled to work and the nature of their work. In short, the lives of the workers are enslaved and shackled by the iron chains of capital.

After the capitalists have agreed to purchase the labour power of the workers, they set them to produce wealth in the form of goods or services. When this wealth has been produced however, it does not belong to the workers but passes into the possession of the owners of the means by which it was produced. The workers have no say in what happens to the wealth they have created, where it goes or who receives it, but merely receive a part of the value of this wealth in the form of wages and salaries. Of course, the capitalist class do not keep the wealth created by the workers for themselves. They have to sell it on the market, and, as the goal of production in capitalism is to realise profits, at a higher price than what their accumulated costs of production were. In this way the capitalist class is able to amass great fortunes, whilst the workers, who have to give back their wages to the class of capitalists as a whole when they buy the things they need to stay alive, are compelled to repeatedly sell themselves by the hour, week or month.

This legalised exploitation of the workers in the process of capitalist production is only the tip of the iceberg. Capitalism, because it is a system which puts the profits of a few before the needs of the many, oppresses hundreds of millions of people throughout the world by denying them access to the things which they need in order to live.

It denies tens of millions of men, women and children every year their right to life, by condemning them to systematic death by starvation, whilst at the same time destroying or discouraging the production of food, in order to maintain profit levels. In the "richer" countries capitalism lets people die of hypothermia and other curable diseases simply because the production and distribution of heating fuels, the building and equipping of hospitals and the developing and manufacture of medicines is manacled by the dictates of profitability. Production for profit condemns many more millions to the squalor of living in slums, yet building workers are thrown out of work in their thousands and rendered useless.

Irrespective of whether a government in capitalism is democratically elected or not, or whether it describes itself as Conservative or Communist, Social Democratic or Socialist, Labour or Liberal or whatever it is in office to run capitalism. Consequently, regardless of any good or bad intentions its members may or may not have had, it has no choice but to act against the interests of the working class, by wielding the forces of the state in the interests of capital.

Within each national segment of capitalism, the apparatus of the state, at every level, is staffed by personnel charged with the maintenance of the capitalist social order. This personnel comprises the police, army and navy, judiciary and legal system, prison staff, civil service and the "education" system, each in its turn, playing a part in making sure the working class constitutes a docile, indoctrinated and exploitable army of wage labour for the capitalists to feed off. "Ah!" protest the apologists of capitalism, "but they all play their part in maintaining law and order and ensuring that we can all sleep peacefully in our beds at night." Indeed they do maintain "Law and order", but what do these cherished words mean in practice?

Law and order means preserving stability in a society based upon class ownership of the means of life. It means people living on the streets of cities in every country in the world, because capitalism can't provide houses for them. It means houses remain empty because it is "unlawful" for people to occupy them. It means that people throughout the world go hungry and cold because it is "unlawful" for them to take food and heating materials from the shops and stores. Law and order means the right of a minority class of parasites to monopolise the resources of the earth, and legally to rob and exploit the rest of the human race.

A society based upon production for profit requires a police force because it produces criminals, by forcing people to steal, rob and kill in order to live or in order to "prove themselves" in its jungle of social and political madness. The construction and building of armies and navies, far from being capitalism's anathema, are its life blood, because it is a system divided into national segments, the capitalists of which are in constant conflict, a conflict which inevitably breaks out from time to time in open violence, over markets, resources, land and cheap labour forces from which they can wring their profits.

Capitalism needs "Law and order" to survive because it is riddled with contradictions and insoluble problems. It has long outlived its usefulness in the history of the human race and should be replaced with something new — socialism.

Socialism will be a society in which there will be no place for governments, armies, police forces or any of the other oppressive institutions required by capitalism. In socialism the means of production and distribution of wealth will be held in common by society, enabling production to be carried on with the sole purpose of satisfying the needs of human beings. This means that, for the first time in the history of the human race, society will be in a position to eradicate forever the conditions of poverty, want, fear and insecurity, along with violent, aggressive beings which these conditions breed.

A society which caters for the needs of its members, because its members will be in control, will not need to set above itself a group of people to rule over it and dictate its actions. When all freely avail themselves of the wealth freely created there will be no need for policemen to stand guard over it to prevent people taking what they need from what they produce.

Socialism will not require the services of armies and navies because competition between the world's population will be replaced by co-operation and an understanding that the material needs of people in one part of the world are the needs of people the world over.
Nigel McCullough

The State and its abolition (Part 1)

From the Spring 1985 issue of the World Socialist

The establishment of world socialism will involve the abolition of the state, but this must be achieved by first gaining control of the entire powers and machinery of governments, including the armed forces. The practical question involved in this is that the socialist majority must be in a position to implement its object. It must be in a position to control events, which means being in a position to enact the common ownership of the means of production, and to ensure that society is completely transformed on this basis. At the centre of capitalist class power is their control of the forces of the state, therefore this must be taken out of their hands.

The operation of the entire capitalist system arises from the antagonistic relations between capital and labour, and this determines not only commodity production for profit but also the function of the state in enforcing these class relations. It therefore follows that with the establishment of a classless, socialist society, the state will be redundant, and the machinery of government will be converted for the purposes of useful, democratic administration. This position will be established with the socialist capture of political control.

The capture of political control by the World Socialist Movement will establish the position whereby socialist delegates will be in control of the machinery of governments at local and national level throughout the world. Their first action will be to implement the common ownership of the means of production. Classes will thus be abolished and a classless community come into being.

Since state machines operate on the basis of class-dominated society, it follows that they can have no place in a classless society which will be democratically organised solely for the needs of the whole community. The present system of centralised government decision-making which is enforced by the state apparatus will be abolished and replaced, with the establishment of socialism, by a democratic system of decision-making in which decisions would flow from the broadest possible social base as representing the democratic views of the whole community. The particular functions which now comprise the machinery of governments will become redundant or will be retained according to their usefulness to the needs of the community. As well as this of course, new functions would be necessary.

The operation of states consisting of centralised political executives imposing their decisions on society through a coercive state apparatus, according to class interests, would therefore be automatically swept away. Concerning particular functions, it is obvious that such a government ministry as a Ministry of Defence, together with all armaments production, would also be immediately redundant. The government bureaucracies concerned with tax gathering, allocation of funds, payments of pensions and other monetary allowances, accounting, rates, etc, are also obvious examples which would be redundant. On the other hand, existing government departments at national and local level concerned with housing, education, transport, health, roads, energy supply, communications, or any body which could be usefully concerned with social safety, would need to be retained, adapted or expanded as part of the democratic system concerned solely with administration for needs.

Another leader called Tony (2000)

From the May 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard

Britain`s largest Trotskyist organisation, the Socialist Workers Party, is in mourning. Last month their founder and spiritual leader, Tony Cliff, left them for his final resting place on the presidium of the great soviet in the sky

Cliff was 82 and had spent a lifetime advancing his own particular brand of the politics of the Russian Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky. Of the three great gurus of the Trotskyist movement in Britain — Gerry Healy, Tony Cliff and Ted Grant — only the latter is now left to act as the Old Man`s emissary in the birthplace of capitalism.

Cliff, who was also known as Ygael Gluckstein, came to Britain from Palestine in the 1940s and soon made a name for himself in the acrid environment of the fledgling Trotskyist movement. An engaging and vociferous public speaker, he devoted his entire life towards building up what is now the largest left-of-Labour party in Britain — from the Socialist Review Group of the 1950s, through to International Socialism right up to the modern SWP, an organisation conceived by him in late 1976 and created out of the old IS weeks later in January 1977.

The real significance of Cliff has been that only rarely has the SWP — or any of its predecessors — taken up a political position seriously at variance with Cliff`s own. His mark has been stamped on the SWP from beginning to end.

Cliff`s political trajectory has been an interesting one. Like all Trotskyists, he rejected Stalinism and the "actually exiting socialism" of the USSR without ever seriously speaking out against the Leninism which underpinned it. However, unlike his erstwhile colleagues Healy and Grant (who were to go on to found, respectively, the Workers Revolutionary Party and the Militant Tendency) his Trotskyism was never of the orthodox variety. Indeed, for a period in the 1950s and 60s his politics — and that of the organisations he led — could only be described as Trotskyist in a loose sense, if at all.

The International Socialists had, particularly in their early years in the 1960s, an internal political structure based more on federalism than the hierarchical democratic centralism typically associated with Leninist and Trotskyist groups. But as that organisation grew and Cliff sensed the world political situation changing in the wake of the discontent of May 1968, he was instrumental in initiating what was termed a "turn to the class". This was, in reality, a turn back to the Leninist politics of the vanguard party that he had openly identified with in his youth.

Whether Cliff`s apparent period of support for political federalism over democratic centralism was one born of conviction or was simply a cynical tactical manoeuvre is still debated. But that a change of sorts took place is undoubted and is reflected quite obviously in the subject matter for Cliff`s biographies — the first of Rosa Luxemburg (in 1959), followed in the 1970s and 80s by multi-volume biographies of Lenin and Trotsky. His one-time veneration of Luxemburg and her conception of the political party was later to cause some embarrassment to the hard-bitten Leninists of the SWP, particularly the following passage and some remarks associated with it:
"Rosa Luxemburg`s conception of the structure of the revolutionary organisation — that they should be built from below up, on a consistently democratic basis — fits the needs of the workers` movement in the advanced countries much more closely than Lenin`s conception of 1902–4 which was copied and given an added bureaucratic twist by Stalinists the world over." (Rosa Luxemburg, p. 54)
This conception is very far removed indeed from the internal structure of the International Socialists after 1968 and especially from that of the present-day SWP, a hierarchical organisation which is dominated by a self-perpetuating Central Committee and which prides itself on ruthlessly banning all internal factions and organised dissension.

Cliff`s other main deviation from the scriptures of orthodox Trotskyism was more long lasting and came with the view he adopted towards the nature of the Soviet Union. An early adherent of the conventional Trotskyist view that Russia was some sort of degenerated workers` state under Stalinist rule, Cliff changed sides in a dispute which convulsed the international Trotskyist movement in the 1940s to side with the unorthodox minority who claimed that what operated in Russia was a system of bureaucratic state capitalism. This theory had been promoted in Trotskyist circles by elements in the main American Trotskyist outfit the SWP (no relation), most notably C.L.R.James and Raya Dunayevskaya. Cliff popularised the state capitalist thesis within the British Trotskyist movement, first of all in a discussion paper within the main Trotskyist party in Britain at the time, the Revolutionary Communist Party, and then in his book Russia: A Marxist Analysis, which was later re-published as State Capitalism in Russia.

That Cliff did more to popularise the main Trotskyist theory of state capitalism in this country than anybody else has led some to mistakenly suggest that he was actually the originator of the theory. This is often the view peddled by the modern SWP, though some have gone even further still to suggest that Cliff was in essence the originator of all the theories of state capitalism. None fall into this category more obviously than his disciple Paul Foot in his recent obituary of Cliff in The Guardian (12th April):
"His unique intellectual contribution was to describe, in the late 1940s, the Soviet Union as state capitalist, and therefore imperialist — a proposition as shocking to most socialists of the time as it was inspiring to those of us who were convinced by it."
The reality is that Cliff`s description of the Soviet Union as state capitalist was not even "unique" within the Trotskyist movement itself let alone outside it. Furthermore, it is a matter of record that the theory of state capitalism when applied to the Soviet Union was not an invention of the Trotskyist movement at all. It was first developed by the Socialist Party of Great Britain in the years immediately following the Bolshevik coup d`etat of 1917 and by a number of council communist and left communist groups and theorists in Europe during the 1920s and 30s. Indeed, in Britain the Socialist Party was elaborating a state capitalist critique of Soviet Russia before Trotskyism was even identifiable as a political tendency and well before any "Trotskyists" as such existed.

What was disingenuous about Foot`s particular article about Cliff is that Foot knows how the theory of state capitalism arose quite well, having previously claimed in Socialist Worker that he was originally converted to socialism by speakers from the SPGB in Glasgow. And even the Introduction to the Pluto Press version of Cliff`s State Capitalism in Russia was honest enough to recognise that "[t]he conclusion that the USSR represents a form of state capitalism was in no way novel. It was a view that had often been advanced before, commonly in association with ultra-left ideas" so there really is no excuse for Foot`s attempts to lionise his deceased leader.

Interestingly, one contributor to The Guardian`s letters page claimed that Foot was justified in the sense that Cliff elaborated the first really coherent exposition of the theory of state capitalism even though that term had been used before. But this does not hold water on two grounds: firstly, the SPGB and others didn't "label" Russia state capitalist, but developed a particular analysis to this effect; secondly, Cliff`s arguments were in no way coherent or well-rounded. In an attempt to absolve Lenin and Trotsky of responsibility for the development of Soviet society, Cliff sought to blame Stalin, as Trotskyists are wont to do. To achieve this he had to create an otherwise arbitrary distinction between Russia prior to 1928 (when it was supposedly some sort of workers` state) and then afterwards, when Stalin`s position was finally consolidated (and it somehow became state capitalist). Yet the essential features of the Soviet economy were just the same before as afterwards: commodity production, wage labour, capital accumulation and all the other features which defined it as specifically capitalist.

What Cliff did in his theory of bureaucratic state capitalism was to re-characterise the social formation in existence in Russia solely in response to a perceived change in political control rather than of the social and economic reality, a practice completely contrary to Marxist analysis and demonstrated to be such by Cliff`s critics both outside the Trotskyist movement (e.g. the SPGB, the council communists and left communists) and within it (notably by Ted Grant and Jock Haston).

The other main theory which Cliff helped to popularise was not mentioned at all in Foot`s obituary, this being the theory of the Permanent Arms Economy. It probably did not get a mention because it has pretty much fallen by the wayside in the SWP, though it deserves some comment because for much of their existence the Trotskyist grouping around Cliff (SRG/IS/SWP) has been almost as well known for this as for anything else.

Essentially it was developed by Cliff and one of his earliest supporters, Michael Kidron, in the 1950s and 60s as an explanation of why Britain and some of the other Western powers were enjoying a "long boom" after the Second World War, instead of suffering a major economic crisis. Their argument was that much of the productive capital in the economy at the time was being siphoned off into what they considered to be an unproductive form of expenditure on armaments production. They claimed this was important as it offset the tendency of the rate of profit to fall by minimising investment in the 'productive' sphere of the economy and the associated tendency of the organic composition of capital to rise (the ratio of constant to variable capital). Eventually, they thought, the burden of arms spending would become too great, leading to lower growth among high arms-spending states and deeper slumps.

The SWP used this thesis to inform a number of its arguments on the arms race, imperialism, uneven economic development and economic crises but it increasingly came under attack from other writers with a grasp of Marxian economics. Indeed, one of the best summaries of the arguments why armaments production is in reality little different from other forms of production and with few of the properties attributed to it by Cliff and Kidron is given by Cliff`s fellow (and recently deceased) Trotskyist Ernest Mandel in his Introduction to the Penguin edition of Volume Two of Marx`s Capital. In time, the Permanent Arms Economy and its related concepts drew some sustained criticism from within the SWP too (including from Kidron) and is today heard of a lot less than it was. This is appropriate, for in attributing magical powers to specific types of government expenditure

Cliff's Legacy
Overall then, the intellectual legacy of Cliff is far less substantial than his supporters like to claim. As befitted a man whose overriding aim was to "build the Party", Cliff`s strength really lay in political organisation and the necessary weaving and manoeuvring through the internal strife that is the lifeblood of any Leninist organisation. Indeed, he built his party through the usual Trotskyist method of a centralised, vanguardist organisation on the one hand combined with openly reformist demands and opportunistic practices on the other, and there is nothing original in that — both Grant and Healy successfully achieved this in Britain too, at least for a time.

In one of the SWP`s main introductory texts, its leader-in-waiting Alex Callinicos expressed what Cliff must surely have seen as his own — and his vanguard party`s — pivotal role come the glorious day:
"A revolutionary situation places a premium on effective organisation and leadership. Events move very quickly, and on a snap decision may hang the fate of the entire revolution. What is needed is a cool and clear head, a firm sense of the ultimate objective, the ability to make rapid tactical judgements, and an organisation capable not only of making decisions, but of carrying them out." (The Revolutionary Road to Socialism, p.46)
But the result of Cliff`s vanguardist approach has not been the glorious insurrection he so desired to lead or even, for that matter, a legacy of original and impressive theories for the working class to digest: far from it. Cliff`s main legacy has been the SWP`s long and shabby history of supporting wars and terrorist atrocities, of conning workers into voting Labour and of misleading them about how state capitalism is really socialism if presided over by the correct group of leaders.

The modern SWP is certainly the House That Cliff Built and can indeed boast about being the largest construction on the political left. It is not, however, an edifice of which any serious socialist could justifiably be proud.
Dave Perrin

State capitalism in the Russian Empire

From the Winter 1984 issue of the World Socialist 

Probably the greatest obstacle to the acceptance of socialist ideas in the present century has been the belief on the part of millions of workers that socialism - or communism - has been established. Quite understandably, workers look at the tyrannies of Eastern Europe, China, Albania and the other self-proclaimed "socialist countries" and reject what they see. The media in the West are quite happy to accept the myth that these police states are "socialist". Since the 1920s the Communist Parties of the world have been spreading the lie that socialism exists; for example, the Communist Party of Great Britain's official policy document, The British Road to Socialism, asserts that
Today socialism is a reality for all to see. Countries with a population of hundreds of millions are socialist states. (October 1968, p.17) 
The constitutions of these countries repeat the lie: article I of the Polish constitution declares that 
The Polish People's Republic is a socialist state in which power belongs to the working people . . . . 
The first article of the most recent constitution of the USSR (established in 1977) states that 
The USSR is a socialist state of the whole people, expressing the will and interests of the workers, peasants and intelligentsia . . .
It is the contention of the World Socialist Movement that these countries are not socialist or communist and must be exposed for what they are: capitalist state dictatorships. It is not our view that the countries of the Russian Empire used to be socialist, but ceased being so on a certain date. (We leave such crackpot theories to the Trotskyists and other assorted confusion-mongers who wish to advocate the Bolshevik recipe while spitting out the Stalinist cake). The Russian Empire - by which term we include the seven members of the Council for Mutual Economic Assurance (Comecon) - is a group of countries which exhibit the features of capitalism. 

As scientific socialists, we shall explain what we see as the two main defining characteristics of capitalism and will then proceed to demonstrate that these exist within the Russian Empire. Firstly, capitalism is a system in which wealth takes the form of commodities. i.e. objects produced for sale on the market. Commodity production is not unique to capitalism, but the commodity nature of labour power is. So, capitalism is defined by the fact that the mental and physical energies of most people have to be sold on the market for a price called a wage or a salary. Where there is wage labour there is capitalism. Secondly, capitalism is defined by the law of value. Value is a social relationship which exists in property society where commodities are exchanged. Where there are no commodities, because production and distribution have advanced beyond the stage of buying and selling relationships, there will be no need for the concept of value or for prices and money. As Marx pointed out, "Value is the expression of the specifically characteristic nature of the capitalist process of production" (quoted in T. Cliff, Russia A Marxist Analysis, p.148). 

Most early socialists, including Marx and Engels, accepted the logical supposition that the abolition of capitalism would necessitate the ending of commodity production, wage labour and the law of value, including prices and profits. In short, they were under no illusion that socialism - which is to be the antithesis of capitalism - could exhibit the social features of the capitalist system. For example, Engels pointed out that "With the seizing of the means of production by society, production of commodities is done away with. .," (Socialism: Utopian and Scientific). Marx, replying to a German writer called Wagner who thought that the law of value would exist in socialism, rejected explicitly "the presupposition that the theory of value, developed for the explanation of capitalist society, has validity for socialism". This point is explained in greater detail elsewhere in this issue (see pages 34-42). 


It is often imagined that the Bolshevik revolution of November 1917 (October according to the old Russian calendar in force at the time) was the most significant event in Russia that year. In fact, this is far from the case. In March (February) 1917 a far more significant revolution took place. This was not led by any party or faction, but resulted from the spontaneous indignation of Russian workers and peasants who were suffering huge losses in the imperialist war, were starving in the towns and deprived of land in the vast peasant areas. The workers of Petrograd and Moscow set up soviets (councils) without any help from the Bolsheviks who later claimed credit for these bodies - in fact, Lenin was living in exile in Switzerland when the revolution broke out and did not return to Russia until April. The workers and peasants of 1917 were not interested in ideas about socialism - their demands were for peace, land and bread. When Lenin turned up in April 1917 he told the Bolshevik party that they should turn the revolution into a socialist revolution - in a country which had only developed capitalism in a few cities and in which three million industrial workers were overshadowed by over a hundred million peasants. Listening to Lenin's unpractical scheme, Bogdanov - a fellow Bolshevik - described such ideas as "the delirium of a madman". Bogdanov had a point. The Bolsheviks won power mainly by offering everything to everyone, even though many of the promises conflicted. Using the anger of the workers and peasants against the provisional government which was set up in March and insisted in pursuing the unpopular war, the Bolsheviks seized power. Having obtained power, the Bolsheviks were forced to act like puppets, dancing to the tune of the existing historical conditions. In short, they were forced to develop capitalism. But, being a party which was led by a number of dogmatic intellectuals, the Bolsheviks maintained the myth that they were creating genuine socialism. For example, in 1919 Bukharin and Preobrazhensky wrote that
Communist society will know nothing of money . . . Thus, from the very outset of the socialist revolution money begins to lose its significance . . . By degrees a moneyless system of accounting will come to prevail. (The ABC of Communism). 
In 1920 Zinoviev declared boldly: "We are moving towards the complete abolition of money" (quoted in E.H. Carr, The Bolshevik Revolution, Volume 2, Penguin, p.263). This was pure utopian fantasy. 

Lenin and his fellow Bolshevik leaders in Petrograd, who tended to be less taken in by their own rhetoric than were their Moscow comrades, did not take long to realise that their job was to develop state capitalism. Leninists often gasp with horror when it is suggested that Lenin ever had such intentions - they should read the man himself: 
. . . state capitalism would be a step forward . . . if in approximately six months' time state capitalism became established in our Republic, this would be a great success . . . ('Left-Wing' Childishness and the Petty- Bourgeois Spirit, May 1918). 
By March 1919 the Bolshevik party congress resolved that "in the period of transition from capitalism to communism the abolition of money is an impossibility". The so-called period of transition, which the Bolsheviks called socialism, was a period of state capitalism - a point which Lenin had explicitly made even before the Bolsheviks seized power: 
Socialism is merely state-capitalist monopoly which is made to serve the interests of the whole people . . . (The Impending Catastrophe and How to Combat it, September 1917). 
So, when the Russian Empire describes itself as socialist it does so in the logically perverse Leninist sense of meaning that it is state capitalist. 

In the early days of state capitalism the Bolsheviks claimed that the basic features of their society were different from those which define capitalism in the Marxist definition. By the time of Stalin this had all changed, and in his Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR, written in 1952, Stalin admitted that commodity production and the law of value existed in Russia: 
 . . . our commodity production radically differs from commodity production under capitalism . . . It is sometimes asked whether the law of value exists and operates in our country, under the socialist system. Yes, it does exist and does operate. 
So, Stalin admitted that he was presiding over a system of buying and selling, wage labour, value and price- all of the features which Marx attributed to capitalism - but kept up the illusion that this was socialism. 


According to the Communist Parties the Russian Empire is socialist, despite its capitalist characteristics, because there is a workers' state. According to them, the state in Russia is controlled by the working class. Logically, this must mean that the workers operate a police state to exploit themselves. Other Leninists, who think that Trotsky's analysis was correct, say that Russia is a "degenerate workers' state" (whatever that is), while others disagree vehemently, declaring that it is a "deformed workers' state". Lengthy theoretical arguments between various brands of Trotskyists' typewriters have gone on for years in this heated and utterly silly debate. The simple fact is that the existence of socialism - a classless society - can have no need of a state machine - an instrument for the coercion of one social class by another. Socialism entails the abolition of the state machine. Leninists answer this by saying that the state in socialist society is "withering away". In fact, the coercive state under so-called socialism has grown more powerful, not less. 

In the state capitalist countries the function of the state is to act as the functionary of capital in the exploitation of wage labour. The bureaucratic elite who run the state live in comfort and privilege as a result of the exploitation of the working class. Of course, just as the state owns some parts of the means of wealth production in the private capitalist countries, so there is some degree of private capital ownership under state capitalism: 80 per cent of Polish land is owned by individuals, some of whom are very rich, and in Russia there are several millionaires who enjoy lifestyles substantially different from the workers simply because they are living off surplus value. In general, the ruling class of the Russian Empire have less legally established rights of power than their Western counterparts. But the essential point is not to point to individuals and say, Look, there is the capitalist class, but to be able to point to the exploitative social force of capital, which in the Russian Empire is represented by the state machine. 


The socialist analysis of capitalism is not based upon the localised investigation of individual nations: under capitalism all nations are involved in, and dictated to by, the world market. It is often claimed the Comecon countries are removed from the capitalist world market. This is not so. In October 1976 the London Times published a supplement headed as follows: " ANGLO-SOVIET TRADE: A SPECIAL REPORT TO MARK THE 60th ANNIVERSARY OF THE BRITISH- SOVIET CHAMBER OF COMMERCE". One does not have to be a mathematical wizard or a searching historian to realise that sixty years before 1976 was 1916, ie one year before the so-called socialist revolution in Russia. In short, the revolution did not interrupt the commercial links between Russia and its capitalist neighbours. 

From the middle of the nineteenth century onwards Tsarist Russia attempted to develop capitalism in Russia by trading with the more advanced countries of the West. When the Bolsheviks took power they had no option but to continue that policy if they were to successfully build up state capitalism. In 1918 Radek reported to Sovnarkom, the council for national economy, that: 
For Russia . . . it is an indispensable condition of restoration of her national economy to establish economic relations with the central powers as well as to maintain and broaden relations with the Entente countries. (quoted in Carr, p.135) 
So Russia set about trading within the world capitalist market. Krasin, who was one of the few Bolsheviks to know much about business, was appointed as President of the Council for Foreign Trade. Such commerce has taken three main forms: 
1 .Counter purchase The earliest form of trade between Russia and the West took the form of barter agreements: products of equivalent values would literally be swapped. In modern times barter has developed into counter- purchase agreements whereby Western firms export vitally needed capital to the Comecon states, but, instead of paying for them, the Comecon countries send back cheaply-produced Comecon commodities to the West. For example, Fiat has exported heavy machinery to the Comecon states and has accepted in return Comecon - made car components. These components allow Fiat to produce cars at a lower price than would be the case if they were produced by the relatively more expensive West European labour power. 
2. Leasing By leasing capital equipment to the Comecon countries the Western capitalists can receive their share of Comecon surplus value in rent on machinery , while leaving open the option of removing the capital if economic or political conditions so dictate. Companies like ITT and Rank-Xerox receive very lucrative rents on technology rented to the Russian Empire. The political strategists also like the arrangement as it allows the West to place pressure on Comecon: You fit in with our market arrangemets or we'll take back our capital. For example, US companies decided in the late 1970s that they would only lease container ships to the Comecon countries if they agreed to join the World Shipping Conference, which is a cartel that regulates world shipping trade. 
3. Co-production Western investment in Comecon industry does not end with counter-purchase and leasing agreements. It is now possible for Western investors to buy shares in Comecon enterprises. In other words, capitalists can, without legal restriction, invest in the exploitation of East European wage slaves. According to the most recent statistics - published by Comecon in 1982 - there are currently over 6,000 co-production projects, ie jointly owned capital enterprises, with one share owned by the state and the other by Western investors. In reality, we can assume that there are many more than 6,000 deals of this kind in existence, but both sides have a political interest in hiding them: the state capitalist governments do not want it to be known how much of their industry is co-owned by the multinational companies which the Western Communist Parties claim to be absent from their beloved "socialist states", and the Western capitalists do not want it to be known that they are invested heavily in their professed ideological enemies. In fact, there are now over 100 US multinationals with trading offices in Moscow. (Deals with the Russian Empire used to be carried out through Austrian and Swiss intermediaries, but the traders have these days thrown out the pretence.) 

Investment in the Russian Empire is very profitable. Since 1976 Poland and Romania have allowed Western capitalists to buy up to 100 per cent shares in their enterprises. There is no shortage of capital for investment in Comecon capital. Why? Cheap labour power-the best reason in the world for a parasite to invest. 


Unlike the unionised workforces in the advanced West (who have the cheek to strike for higher wages and better conditions from time to time) the workforce which investors are exploiting in the Russian Empire is paid little, non-unionised, and disciplined stringently. The Russian Empire is an exploiters' dream - the sort of set-up in which the charlatan, freedom-loving bosses of the West can make money out of the acquiescent wage slavery of an exploited class who are told that they are living in a non-exploitative, classless society. 

Trotskyists like to claim that ruthless exploitation was not intended by Lenin and the early Bolsheviks, but was an invention of nasty Joe Stalin. They should study their history: in fact, as early as 1918 Lenin was making it clear that workers would have to be regimented if state capitalism was to be developed: 
A condition of economic revival is an improvement in the discipline of the workers, in knowing how to work, in speed and intensity of work, in its efficient organisation . . . (Current Task of the Soviet Power, March-April 1918) 
In 1919 Tomsky, the Commissar for Labour, told the All-Russian Trade Union Congress that at that time " . . . no strikes can take place in Soviet Russia. Let us put the dot on this i." (quoted in Carr, p.204) So, Russian trade unions were taken over by the Bolshevik state and used as instruments of labour regimentation. Still today the unions of Eastern Europe are dominated entirely by the state bosses. How many Western workers would be prepared to join a union which is run by the employer? They would be mad if they were - yet that is what the Communist Parties of the West are content with for the workers of the Russian Empire. 

1983 witnessed the initiation of a series of newly repressive labour laws in Russia. These were welcomed by the All-Russian Trade Union Congress, according to a report entitled "STEPS TAKEN TO TIGHTEN LABOUR DISCIPLINE" published in Pravda on 7 August 1983: 
Loafers, truants and drifters frequently feel free to do as they wish, and in terms of wages . . . they are on a par with conscientious employees. In combating phenomena of this sort, poor use is being made of disciplinary sanctions. In future, while making full use of material and moral incentives for selfless labour, it is necessary to resolutely eradicate instances of conciliatory attitudes towards violators of production discipline . . . Violations of labour discipline should be regarded as a deviation from the fulfilment to work conscientiously, which is established by the USSR constitution. 
And that is only what the unions think! The new labour laws are very severe, including penalties of sending workers for up to three months to work in a different area of the country if they are absent from work without leave and the loss of a week's holiday for "loafing or intoxication". We must assume that trade unionists in the Western Communist Parties are fighting to achieve such "socialist" labour conditions? 

With workers as well regimented as that, one can appreciate the words of the American capitalist, Cyrus Eaton, in 1974 when his tyre company entered into a joint-ownership agreement with Comecon: 
This (deal) enabled the East European countries to earn badly needed hard currency and, because of lower labour costs, the venture can sell tyres much cheaper than Western companies can (quoted in C. Levinson, Vodka-Cola
Indeed, some Western firms are now objecting to the uncompetitive Comecon - made commodities coming on to the Western market and reducing the sales of the unionised - made products. Examples are Czech and Polish shoes, the Czech-made Fiat 125 and Czech sugar-beet harvesters. Ironically, in Britain the Communist Party, which has a policy of opposing import controls, at the same time is running a campaign to increase imports from the Russian Empire.


Space does not allow us to investigate the important links between the loans made to the Comecon countries by Western banks and the policies of those countries. At the moment Romania is a member of the International Monetary Fund and Poland has recently applied to join. Most of the major Western banks have offices in the main East European capital cities. Russia applied to the Western banks recently for a £600 million loan; if they receive it, then Russian workers will have to work harder than ever in order to produce the surplus value to pay the interest rates. 

In 1980 Poland owed 27 billion dollars to the Western banks: 500 million dollars interest had to be paid in that year alone. In order to pay the banks food prices were increased. For the first time in the history of state capitalism millions of workers resisted the state's cut into their already impoverished real wages. Solidarity came into being and, despite our criticisms of the religious and nationalist illusions of many of its members, socialists greeted this great emergence of resistance with sympathy and admiration. In the West there was no shortage of rhetorical support for Solidarity from politicians who were busy bashing their unions at home. But the Western banks, on whose behalf the Polish state was trying to exploit its workers, were not concerned about so-called free trade unions: they wanted their loot, even if that meant dealing with the resistance of the Polish workers by force. As one official of a London bank put it in the London Sunday Times of 13 December: 
Speaking only as a banker, it would be a good thing if Russia invaded Poland, because then she would be obliged to honour Poland's debts. 
That day martial law was introduced in Poland. The brute force of the state (using Polish troops and police) did the job which the bankers had asked to be done. 


Nationalisation or state-run capital is simply another form of capitalism. There are plenty of ways to run exploitation and calling it socialism will only fool those who read the labels without examining the contents of the bottles. Socialism will be a classless, wageless, moneyless, stateless world society. It will in no way resemble the hideous dictatorship over the proletariat of the Leninist police states. As the Solidarity newspaper, Jednosc stated in one of its articles: 
State ownership and social ownership of the means of production are two completely different concepts which should never be confused. The means of production may be owned by the state, but this does not mean that they are thereby the social property of the working class. 
And until the property of the world does belong to the workers - or rather, until we have abolished both property and class - those who speak of the existence of socialism in the world today are either fools, liars or both. 

Steve Coleman