Re: [OPE] Question to Marxologists: Mode of production

From: Dave Zachariah <>
Date: Mon Sep 01 2008 - 13:50:09 EDT

Hi John,

on 2008-08-31 17:34 you wrote:
> To my opinion, the appropriation of the greater part of the surplus by
> the state does not form a different mode of production: In the Soviet
> Union, the enterprise (with its innate hierarchies, technologies,
> etc.) remained the basic production unit, as in Western capitalism.
> The surplus was appropriated in these enterprises and it was only
> AFTERWARDS transferred to the state through the "tax" system. To a
> large extent, this surplus was re-directed to the enterprises
> according to the "plan".

I follow Marx's analysis on this issue. It is not simply that the state
appropriates a surplus, but the specific mode in which this is done and
how social labour is organized. In capitalism, social labour is
organized by legally distinct firms according to the market and surplus
labour is extracted through a mechanism of symbolic appropriation of
surplus value (which allows a real appropriation of a surplus product).
Now if "state-capitalism" means anything it is an instance of capitalism
where the state either is the legal owner or rentier of the distinct
firms. Social labour is still organized through distinct firms and
markets, surplus labour is extracted by the same mechanism (the state
claims a portion of the profits in the same way as a rentier does). Most
Western European countries had some state-capitalist sector of varying
size. British Steel and Statoil are but two examples.

 From this follows that what existed in the Soviet Union was a distinct
mode of production. The social division of labour was determined by a
political plan to which state enterprises had to adapt. Also the amount
of surplus labour was already determined by the plan: e.g. unlike
capitalism, it could not be altered by a struggle over wages. These
fundamental economic characteristics determined the relationship between
rulers and ruled, workers and state aristocracy, and the particular
trajectory of Soviet society, which differed from any capitalist society
as expected from Marx's general theory.

To call it "state-capitalism" is thus to obscure the nature of things. I
know that since Trotskyists were in opposition to the Soviet Union some
of them used "state-capitalism", thereby projecting their political
dislike for capitalism onto the Soviet system, implying that
fundamentally they were really the same thing. This is untenable as a
scientific analysis. (It reminds me of a Swedish left-wing politician
who once made the nonsensical statement that the oppression of women in
Afghanistan is really the same as in Sweden.) Other Trotskyists seem to
have been a bit more sharp in their analysis, calling it "bureaucratic

Conceptualization is a part of theorizing. An obscured analysis can have
political implications: For instance, Israeli socialist Moshé Machover
has strongly argued against the conflation of South African Apartheid
with Israeli occupation. Yes, both were and are oppressive colonial
settler states, but with fundamentally different political economies:
the former uses the indigenous population as a source of surplus labour,
the latter aims to expel the indigenous population. That leads to two
different types of political responses and consequences.

//Dave Z
ope mailing list
Received on Mon Sep 1 13:52:27 2008

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.8 : Wed Dec 03 2008 - 15:12:31 EST