From International Socialism (1st series), No.50, January-March 1972, p.42.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The End of Inequality? Stratification Under State Socialism
A serious study of the different characterisations of Soviet Society is long overdue; this little monograph goes only some way towards providing it.
Lane gives a brief but adequate summary of the Marxist view of equality, though he leaves out a great deal, such as the Critique of the Gotha Programme, in the process. Presumably this is in the interests of compression, at all events it exacts its own price at later points in the book as we shall see. He also summarises the material bases of the post-1917 Russian system in an approximate but workable fashion. The chief interest of the book lies in his discussion of what he insists on calling ‘The Conflict Models’ (i.e. the class analysis) of Soviet Society.
The fact that he lumps Shachtman, Cliff, Modzelewski and Djilas together in this section is certainly a disadvantage, however much joy it may inspire in some quarters of orthodox Trotskyism. No real attempt is made to differentiate this amalgam, so it seems that we must find Mr Lane guilty of not having read all his source material thoroughly. Few of his academic colleagues are likely to notice, but it is a pity that he missed a scholarly opportunity of this kind.
Notwithstanding this poor start, some trenchant questions are asked. Trotsky’s use of the word ‘bureaucracy’ is quite rightly criticised for its vagueness, though Lane insists on the tedious point of difference between ‘vertical’ and ‘horizontal’ integration.
State Capitalist theory is attacked on two counts. The first of these is that the unity of the bureaucratic groups is not adequately demonstrated, especially as it relates to the merging of interests between Party and Managers. It is hard to see the importance of this point, unless, as Mr Lane does, we use Djilas as the example. There is no more evidence for regarding the Soviet Union as a pluralist society than there is for seeing monopoly capitalism in that light, except for the commonplace fact that there are divisions and squabbles among the ruling class. In this connection it would have been worth discussing the special interests of groups such as the military, but Mr Lane does not seem to find this useful.
The second objection is the hoary old one of ‘the ownership nexus between state property and the bureaucracy’. Lane argues that the children of the elite cannot inherit social property, nor can the elite dispose of their assets for private gain. The reply made to this by Kuron and Medzelewski, that continuity is assured by a fusion of party and state, is met by Lane with the banal argument that it ‘ignores the conflict that takes place between these groupings’. On the contrary, it is the only sufficient explanation of the conflicts. The most cohesive ruling classes are generally those who do have sharp internal disputes; it is only the weak and the feeble ones who sink their manifold differences. A glance across the Atlantic testifies to this fact. We lack hard information on the precise means by which the bureaucracy carries on the (actually irrelevant) process of private enrichment, but this does not invalidate the point.
For all this, which is no more than one would expect in any case, the book repays its modest price. There is a competent discussion of the ‘totalitarian’ theorists such as Aron and Kernhauser, and some useful reference material, particularly from Soviet sources.
But a really serious and full discussion of the relevance of Marxist analysis to the Soviet Union is a necessity. Too many of the original contributors to the argument, such as C.L.R. James and various comrades in Japan, are ignored in favour of stale polemics with redundant workers’ state arguments. It might be fruitful for Pluto Press to consider a volume which brought the various strands together. If we don’t, the danger is that Mr Lane or one of his PhD students will, and for all his good intentions that would not fit the bill.
Last updated on 22.6.2008