Saturday, May 18, 2019

Party News: Conference Discusses Russian Rulers (1969)

Party News from the May 1969 issue of the Socialist Standard

A resolution that "the ruling class in slate capitalist Russia stands in the same relationship to the means of production as does the ruling class in any other capitalist country (viz. it has a monopoly of those means of production and extracts surplus value from the working class) and is therefore a capitalist class" was carried by 30 votes to 3 with 10 abstentions at the Party Conference over Easter. All were of course agreed that state capitalism exists in Russia but the resolution’s opponents argued that it was premature to make so definite a statement at this stage.

Opening for Manchester branch Comrade J. Crump said that the issue was whether the Russian ruling class was a capitalist class. Some members argued that only direct employers or investors in shares and government bonds were capitalists. But this was not so. The capitalist class were those who monopolised the means of production and accumulated capital. Even though the Russian rulers might lead Spartan lives and were not employers they were still a capitalist class because they carried out these functions.

Comrade Hardy urged caution on the resolution because it seemed to say that the top political and managerial people in Russia were the capitalist class and because it overlooked the extent of private enterprise there. Margaret Miller estimated that in 1963 about a quarter of ‘economic activity' was done through private or non-official channels. The Russian government had also been very successful in building up private savings which now amounted to about £15,000m on which they paid tax-free interest. The ambition of the top salaried people in Russia was probably the same as in Britain: to become wealthy capitalists in their own right. Russia, said Comrade Hardy, was going through great changes and be tentatively suggested that it might move towards the mixed state/private capitalism of Britain.

Points from some of the other speeches:

Comrade Zucconi: In Russia there was a class enjoying the fruits of the workers' labour through political control rather than direct ownership. But this made no difference. They were still the Russian capitalist class.

Comrade K. Knight: The top salaried managers were a significant part of the capitalist class in Russia with a vested interest in accumulating capital not only for themselves but also for the state.

Comrade J. D’Arcy: A capitalist class had not yet emerged in Russia. All we could say was that they existed in embryonic form and that at some later time the bureaucracy might break up into wealthy individuals and strip the state industries.

Comrade Buick: There were private capitalists in Russia but they were not the ruling class. We might need a new name to describe the real rulers. They owned the means of production collectively and got their surplus value as bloated salaries, prizes, bonuses and other 'perks’ rather than as dividends or interest.

Comrade Cook: The bureaucrats now used their control to get surplus value illegally but in time they might want to legalise this. It was a fluid situation in which the dividing line between real control and legal ownership was unclear.

Comrade P. Lawrence: There was no reason why Russian capitalism should evolve along British lines. The state had always dominated Russian society so it was to be expected that it would play the major role it did in the development of capitalism there.

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