[OPE-L:2732] Lenin and state capitalism

Sat, 27 Jul 1996 08:02:50 -0700 (PDT)

[ show plain text ]

Andrew wrote in [OPE-L:2731]:

> (2) That the prevailing mode of production in Lenin's Russia was still state
> capitalism was well understood by some of the Bolshevik's, especially Lenin,
> who considered this and bureaucratic deformation of the worker's state as its
> two foremost problems.

I don't want to get into a long exchange of quotes by Lenin (although I
can provide a representative sampling upon request), but I don't think
that it is accurate to say that Lenin "well understood" that the
"prevailing mode of production in Lenin's Russia was still state

I think it is more accurate to say that:

a) he viewed the "proletarian dictatorship" as the means by which "steps
towards socialism" could be accomplished. The following is a sample of
his early (pre-NEP) position:

"I have no illusions about our having just entered the period of
transition to socialism, about not having reached socialism. But if
you are to say that our state is a socialist Republic of Soviets,
you will be right. You will be as right as those who call many
Western bourgeois republics democratic republics although everybody
knows that not one of even the most democratic of these republics
is completely democratic. They grant scraps of democracy, they cut
off tiny bits of the rights of the exploiters, but the working
people are as much oppressed there as they are everywhere else.
Nevertheless, we say that the bourgeois system is represented by
both old monarchies and by constitutional republics.
And so is our case now, We are far from having completed even the
transitional period from capitalism to socialism. We have never
cherished the hope that we could finish it without the aid of the
international proletariat. We never had any illusions on that
score, and we know how difficult is the road that leads from
capitalism to socialism. But it is our duty to say that our Soviet
Republic is a socialist republic because we have taken this road,
and our words will not be empty words" (CW, 26: 464-5).

b) With the shift from the period of War Communism to the New Economic
Policy (NEP), there was a re-adjustment of policy by Lenin and the
Bolsheviks. Severe economic problems occurring under the period of War
Communism (including widespread starvation and famine), resentment by
certain segments of the peasantry to Soviet policy (which threatened
Soviet rule), and the failure of international revolutions (including the
downfall of the Hungarian and Bavarian Soviet Republics) caused the
Bolsheviks to adopt the NEP which they viewed as a *temporary and
unaviodable retreat from socialism*. Lenin expresses this new thinking in
the following way [on 10/14/21]:

"Borne along on the crest of the [initial] wave of enthusiasm,
rousing first the political enthusiasm and then the military
enthusiasm of the people, we expected to accomplish economic tasks
just as great as the political and military tasks we had
accomplished by relying directly on this enthusiasm. We expected -
or perhaps it would be truer to say that we presumed without giving
it adequate consideration - to be able to organize the state
production and the state distribution of products on communist
lines in a small-peasant country directly as ordered by the proletarian
state. Experience has proven that we were wrong. It appears that a
number of transitional stages were necessary - state capitalism and
socialism - in order to prepare - to prepare by many years of
effort - for the transition to communism" (CW, 33; 58)

which meant

"Not directly relying on enthusiasm, but aided by the enthusiasm
engendered by the great revolution, and on the basis of personal
interest, personal incentive and business principles, we must first
set to work in this small-peasant country to build solid gangways
to socialism by way of state capitalism" (Ibid, p. p. 70).

He went on to say:

"The real nature of the New Economic Policy is this - firstly, the
proletarian state *has given small producers freedom to trade*; and
secondly, in respect to the *means of production in large-scale
industry, the proletarian state is applying a number of principles
of what in capitalist economies is called 'state capitalism*'
(Ibid, p. 407, emphasis in original).

This temporary "orientation toward the market" (Trotsky) included an
enhanced role for management, Taylorism in industry, and a diminished role
for trade unions in decision-making. On that last point, Lenin wrote,

"Under these circumstances, all direct interference by the trade
unions in the management of the factories must be regarded as
positively harmful and impermissible" (Ibid, p. 189).

Trotsky put this even more bluntly:

"Under those [War Communism] conditions we could build only though the
unions ... But now, when we are venturing out into the market, we
cannot 'allow' the unions into management of production .... Now we
have to learn from him, from Rockefeller...." (Leon Trotsky, "The
Trade Unions and the Soviet State," 1922, reprinted in _Inprecor_,
April 14, 1977, p. 38).

c) Despite the above, at no time that I can recall did Lenin refer to the
Soviet society as a state capitalist "mode of production." I also think
that a careful reading of what Lenin wrote will show that his
understanding of the meaning of the term state capitalism was different
than the meanings attached to that term by various authors who have
portrayed the former USSR as state cap.

I don't know that it would be very useful for us to have an extended
exchange, though, on what Lenin and the Bolsheviks meant by the term state
capitalism. More useful, if others want to continue this thread, is for us
to specify what we mean by socialism (perhaps going back to what Marx
wrote on this topic) and how *we* use (or don't use) the expression state

For more quotes from Lenin on topics related to the above, see Eric Olsen
and Bruce Landau _State Capitalism and the Proletarian Dictatorship_
(Detroit, RMC Press, 1977), from which the above quotes were excerpted.
[NB: in excerpting quotes from this source I am in no way implying
acceptance of the general arguments by Olsen-Landau). For sources highly
critical of state capitalist positions, see the various articles and
pamphlets written by the late Ernest Mandel on this subject.

In OPE-L Solidarity,