Marx and Soviet Reality. Daniel Norman (1955)

V: State Capitalism

But let us examine Soviet society more closely. Is it true that the ‘people as a whole’ own the means of production? The answer, according to the Leninist-Stalinists and all the totalitarians, is ‘yes’, but according to Marx’s conception can only be ‘no’. For in Russia there is an intermediary between the direct producer and the conditions of production, and this is the state, that is, the working-class = the Communist Party = Lenin – Stalin and the rest of the leadership. [2]

The ‘individual’ appropriation of the means of production with no intermediary, was the sine qua non condition put by Marx in his Capital when speaking of the transformation of ‘capitalistic private property, already practically resting on socialised production, into socialised property’.

This is not the case in Russia today, where the direct producers are still crushed by their product and the conditions of work, and are still directed and oppressed by their masters, their so-called saviours. In the light of Marxian ethics, there is still ‘human alienation’, loss of ‘human dignity’, the direct producer is still ‘crippled’. Not only is there not direct control and management of production by the direct producers, but this is not even envisaged by Stalin and the other ‘theoreticians’ of Russian ‘Socialism’ for the future.

In Russia, it is true, there is no private ownership of the means of production, and it is the state which is the owner. But state property is no more Socialism than are the rationalisations under liberal capitalist regimes, for the workers are still not the masters of their labour conditions and remain separated from the production process.

State ownership of the productive forces is not the solution... [in Marx and Engels’ view, for] neither the conversion into joint-stock companies nor into state property deprives the productive forces of their character as capital... The workers remain wage-earners, proletarians. The capitalist relationship is not abolished; it is rather pushed to an extreme. (Anti-Dühring, Part 3/2)

There was another alternative, which emerges clearly from Marx’s analysis of the transition forms towards Socialist production already to be found in capitalist economy he was studying, and which certainly had his preference: cooperative factories. Indeed, Marx considered ‘the capitalist stock companies as well as the cooperative factories... as forms of transition from the capitalist mode of production to the associated one, with this distinction, that the antagonism [between capital and labour] is met negatively in one, positively in the other’.

The cooperative factories where ‘the associated labourers’ are ‘their own capitalists’, that is, ‘using the means of production for the employment of their own labour’, show, according to Marx, the way in which a new mode of production may naturally grow out of an old one, when the development of the material forces of production and of the corresponding forms of social production has reached a certain stage (Capital, Volume 3, Chapter 27).

(This form was practised in Russia immediately after the revolution for a very short time and at the worst period for such an experiment. But the economic and political imperatives of Russian reality prevailed and the experiment was brought to an end.)

The fact is that in the USSR the state is the owner of the conditions of production – ‘the general capitalist’ – and the direct producers are wage-earners, that therefore the relations between them according to Marx are still the relations between capital and labour, between employer and proletarians, whether or not this pleases the Soviet leaders. And there is no difficulty in discovering that all the characteristics of the capitalistic system of exploitation are to be found in the Russian system of relationship between the state, owner of the means of production, and the direct producer, the worker. It is true that they are ‘rather pushed to an extreme’ in this ‘most advanced form of state capitalism’. The state pays the labour it employs with wages, and ‘wages... by their very nature always imply the performance of a certain quantity of unpaid labour on the part of the labourer’ (Capital, Volume 1, Chapter 25/1), that is ‘surplus value’. But, says Stalin, who has already ‘discarded’ Marx’s definition of surplus value, quoting in the Stalinist manner the Critique of the Gotha Programme:

... where it is no longer capitalism that he is investigating, but among other things the first phase of Communist society, Marx recognises labour contributed to society for extension of production, for education and public health, for administrative expenses, for building up reserves, etc, to be just as necessary as the labour expended to supply the consumption requirements of the working class.

But this, as always with Stalin and his followers, is only part of the truth. For instance, ‘the general costs of administration not belonging to production’ which have to be drawn from the ‘total social product’ of labour, ‘will, from the outset, be very considerably restricted in comparison with present-day society and it diminishes in proportion as the new society develops’ – so Marx goes on. This Stalin preferred not to discuss. For in Russia the cost of this side had steadily increased since the revolution, and so considerably during the Stalinist era as not only to have resulted in an even greater difference between the bottom and the top of the wage scale (this difference was of the order of one to three in the first years after the revolution and has grown to one to 100 since the first Plan), but also to have produced ‘Soviet millionaires’, of which, indeed, the regime is very proud.