From Letters from Our Readers, International Socialism (1st series), No.34, Autumn 1968, p.28.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.
If Russia could “sustain itself without any reliance on a world market” as Chris Arthur suggests she could (IS33), or if a Russian-like unit were to enjoy the relative size and independence of a ‘World-less-Australia,’ as he puts it, there would be no argument between us. There would be no compulsion on the Russian economy to grow fast; there would therefore be no necessity to rob consumption for investment (or accumulation); and so there would be no compelling reason for bureaucrats to sit on workers’ backs to direct the process.
But Russia is not that big nor that independent – certainly not as big nor as independent as the United States. Her involvement in the world market is not ‘from choice,’ but because the techniques, equipment, material to be found on that market are indispensible for national sovereignty and the bureaucrats survival. And the economic policy (and planning) that derives from such involvement is as predictable, as necessary, as the economic policy adopted by every other capital – to survive competition though efficiency and growth.
True, the Russians or Cubans or whoever do sometimes sell at a loss, to shift surpluses or to gain entry into a market, but so do most capitals – via US food aid, for example, or the multiples’ ‘loss leaders.’ The Russians do direct their efforts to “readying the country for the Second World War, lining the pockets of the bureaucracy, getting a man on the moon, even attending to the welfare of the people,” but so do most capitals when they can.
These Russian aims, as listed by Arthur, do not impress one with their uniqueness. They would be recognised in Washington. Nor would Arthur’s characterisation of western capitalist despotism as the exclusion of workers from determining the ‘ends’ of production be unrecognised in Moscow. Both would know all about perpetuating that exclusion by the use of “traditional State instruments, secret police, censorship, etc.” And if the term ‘profit’ were to cause a flutter of misunderstanding, all the western businessman need do is explain – as Marx did – that profit is a fund for accumulation, and he would gain full (eastern) bureaucratic agreement about its overwhelming importance.
Businessman and bureaucrat, capitalist and commissar – they are not so different from each other. They operate in a world only part of which they control; they derive their power and privilege from the need to offset anarchy with planning, the need to survive in competition through growth. They know – if Arthur doesn’t – that there is no impermeable barrier between ‘internal economy’ and ‘world market;’ but that these are related aspects of capitalism, a world system. Unlike Arthur, they have no difficulty in seeing each others’ function through the unfamiliar nomenclatures: as members of competing ruling classes, each in a position to shape production’s aids in terms of that competition.
Last updated on 19.10.2006