Chris Harman


Capitalism Eastern Style

(July 1970)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.44, July/August 1970, p.41.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

M. Kaiser
RIIA, Oxford University Press, 55s

Eastern Europe in Transition
ed. K. London
John Hopkins Press, London: Oxford University Press, 72s

The Czechoslovak Crisis 1968
ed. R.R. James
Weidenfeld & Nicholson

The first of these three books is the best. It contains a valuable and interesting account of the development of economic exchanges between the differing so-called socialist States, and of the attempt to base these upon some ongoing institutional framework. Although the exposition is at points heavy (in the normal style of academic economists) and repetitious, what emerges is a picture of the develop ment of conflicting interests between the different state capitalist regimes. Certainly many would-be Marxists would take a less rosy view of these regimes if they took some of the facts presented here seriously. For instance, the

‘special conference ... held from February 22 to March 1, 1966 to discuss the fundamental dilemma that the industrialised members (of Comecon) require assurances of markets and materials that the other members are unwilling to give ...’

The reactions of the less developed state capitalist States to such pressures are also interesting. The Chinese, Rumanians and Cubans have all taken up (without acknowledging its source) the Yugoslav complaint of 1949 about ‘capitalist trade relations between socialist countries’. Significantly, shortly before he left the Cuban government – over the issue of the rate of industrialisation among other things – Guevara, paraphrasing the arguments of Popovic in 1949, denounced

‘... talk of mutually-beneficial trade based on prices imposed on underdeveloped countries by the law of value and by its byproduct, the international relations of unequal exchange. How can “mutual benefit” mean the sale at world market prices of the raw materials that cost backward countries sweat and boundless suffering and the purchase at those market prices, of machinery made in modern automated factories.’

Finally, the Chinese have made the point that

‘the prices of many of the goods we imported from the Soviet Union were much higher than those on the world market’. (Peking Review, 8/5/64)

The other two books are less useful. The Kurt London book contains a couple of interesting essays, but the overall level is not better than that of, say, an average issue of Problems of Communism. The James book starts off well with an account of the background to the Czech crisis, but rapidly degenerates into a boring report of the United Nations discussions.

Last updated on 16 November 2009