From the February 1990 issue of the Socialist Standard
The past forty years have been marked by an apparent stability in the modem capitalist world order. The post-war settlement, arrived at by those partners-in-crime of world historical proportions, Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill, has survived surprisingly well. Its main achievement has been to neutralise conflict amongst the major powers, giving capitalists in these countries the peaceful base of operations needed to conduct the greatest programme of mass-exploitation of class by class ever seen on Earth. In the West, the traditional pressures for conflict between developed capitalist nations have been converted into a binding military alliance, and it has preserved a status quo of “mutual deterrence” with its state-capitalist rivals in the Warsaw Pact.
Of course, post-war capitalism has not been without its troubles. Since the global crisis of the early seventies, economic tensions, for example that caused by Japan’s massive trade surplus, have become an increasingly significant issue. However thanks to the close political relationship between the leading seven capitalist governments, the post-war era has been one notable for its unprecedented level of international co-operation on economic matters between the state administrators of capitalism. This has minimised the inherent tendency of capitalism to repeated crisis. The co-ordinated response to the October 87 slump on the world’s stock markets showed how important economic co-operation has become to the functioning of capitalism.
But behind the facade of stability things have not stood still – indeed they could not have. “All things”, Engels pointed out, “come into being and go out of being”, and the post-war settlement is far from being an exception, by reason of the competitive nature of capitalism:
The battle of competition is fought by the cheapening of commodities. The cheapness of the commodities depends . . . on the productivity of labour, and this depends on the scale of production. Therefore the larger capitals beat the smaller. (Marx, Capital, Vol. 1, chapter 25.2)
And true to Man’s prediction, post-war capitalism has indeed been characterised by a growing, unabated concentration of capital. National markets are giving way to international markets. Financial markets are no longer national but global.
The impact of all this for a medium-sized European country like Britain is enormous. What government could once control, it no longer can. Evidence comes from the current trend of privatisation which is, in reality, a programme of multi-nationalisation, as the necessity for capital to expand beyond redundant national borders becomes irresistible. Amersham International, British Aerospace, British Airways, British Gas, British Steel, British Telecom, BP, Cable and Wireless and the others are all now multi-nationals. French interests in British water companies and Jaguar, swallowed whole by Ford, are the latest examples of the inevitable multi-nationalisation process.
Collapse of State Capitalist Bloc
But the major result of all this world capitalist integration is the defeat of the distorted, Stalinist concept of so-called “socialism in one country” or, indeed, one bloc. It has been undermined by its bureaucratic inflexibility and lack of democratic mandate, but finally, and much more emphatically, by the global market, by the logic of capitalism itself. “Socialism in one country” – state capitalism – is suffering the same economic pressures as openly capitalist Britain, which, out of economic necessity, has no choice but to integrate further with its European partners. In the same sense, we are witnessing the end of the era of separate state-capitalist development in the Russian Empire.
The tradition of the Russian Revolution gave rise to the chimera of so-called socialism and capitalism as separate worlds, as entirely estranged civilisations. The Socialist Party never gave in to the temptations of this “short-cut-to-socialism” tradition, and now that steadfastness of view is being vindicated. From now on, with gathering pace, there will be an unstoppable integration of East and West. Russia will over time acquire markets, multi-national firms will operate there, the rouble will become convertible, Russian tourists will visit London as Western tourists already visit Moscow. We are moving into a new era in which the distinctions between Russian state capitalism, the Swedish mixed economy and American capitalism will surely diminish. What does this mean for socialism?
In the short-term, the end of Stalinism will be held by the Western capitalist class as the end of the only apparent non-capitalist alternative, as the end of Marxism. This will lend a sickening prop of legitimacy to the capitalist free-market and the model of Western liberalism. Capitalists and their hangers-on will publicly gloat at the demise of their one-time ideological competitors – but, in private circles, there must be some disquiet about what is to follow the end of the Cold War.
Re-emergence of Germany
Historians in the pay of the master class have falsely (deliberately or not) interpreted the Cold War conflict as a struggle between alternative social systems. The “iron curtain”, a term ingeniously coined by that arch-champion of capitalism, Winston Churchill, has been central to their analysis of post-war international relations. None of this stands up to a thoroughgoing Marxist scrutiny of history. There is no internal tendency towards East-West conflict. What invokes fear and concern in London these days is not Russian military force but the power of the dreaded Deutschmark. And here lies the crux of the matter .The crisis in the Eastern bloc has made the rise of Germany as a new super-power a real possibility.
America, Britain and France are desperately trying to minimise the repercussions of the crisis of Russian state-capitalism, looking for all sorts of new roles for NATO. But the very foundations of the post-war settlement – the arbitrary division of Germany and Europe – cannot be sustained indefinitely. The re-emergence of the German question shatters the illusion (which those in the war-torn third world never had) that the peaceful co-existence of the major capitalist powers can go on for ever. The underlying problems which caused two capitalist world wars this century have not gone away. Indeed, anyone who thinks that peace between Washington and Moscow means total disarmament is only showing the utmost CND-like naivety. At a time when America’s, Russia’s and Britain’s world status rests not on economic power but nuclear capability, the decision to maintain militarisation will not be difficult – especially in the light of the glowing economic successes of Germany, Japan and Italy.
If the collapse of separatist state-capitalism in the Eastern bloc is giving capitalists around the world sleepless nights, then the opposite is true for scientific socialists. For us, there is some cause for optimism in the cataclysmic events of recent months. So long as Leninism, Stalinism, Russian state capitalism masqueraded as the only non-capitalist model, the project for building a majority support for socialism could make only limited progress. The apologists for capitalism on the political left and right could always point to Russian society in their ideological argument against a social revolution. Now at last, the end of Stalinism creates the possibility of clarifying the issues at stake in the class struggle.
Way Clear for Socialism
Never has the appeal for workers of the world to unite been more relevant or urgent. Together we can eliminate the waste of human capacities and material resources which exists under capitalism. Together we can achieve an abundance of the means of life to which everyone will enjoy free access. Together we can nullify the risk of another capitalist world war.
This prospect is brought nearer now that the siren-call of “Marxism-Leninism” that attracted many would-be socialists to the rocks of state-capitalism is being stifled. It is surely now clear that Lenin’s distorted interpretation of Marxism produced the vanguardism of which Sir Nicolae Ceausescu was the latest perverted symbol. Leninism occurred in a country in which there was peasant unrest, economic backwardness and no possibility, under feudal relations, of building up to the mass working-class movement that Marx had in mind. Though even in feudal Russia earlier this century, Lenin’s was not the only view of Marxism. After all, the Mensheviks took a different view. They believed, as Marx and Engels did, in the necessary development of the social contradictions in capitalism which would inevitably and inexorably lead to social revolution and socialism.
Marxism and scientific socialism are not the same as “Marxism-Leninism”. Martov and Plekhanov never thought so. The Socialist Party has never thought so at any point in its history and now world events have endorsed this unwavering position. The era of the 1917 revolution is at an end. And for those left disillusioned by the failure of “socialism in one country” it is time to join the party with untarnished principles, to help create a mass democratic movement for world socialism.
It is time to join the Socialist Party and the real pre-Lenin tradition of Marxism, for though the Cold War is over, the class war goes on.