Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

The Nature of Soviet Society

Joint Presentation by the Committee for a Proletarian Party and the Communist Organization, Bay Area given June 10, 1982 in the Debate with the Line of March on Whether the USSR is Capitalist or Socialist

Critique of LOM’s Positions

How do our points on the nature of the Soviet system compare with those advanced by Line of March? The differences are substantial. We do not agree on what capitalism is, and neither do we agree on what socialism is. We have different interpretations of what classes are and the nature of class struggle under socialism. We differ on the nature of the relations of production under socialism and the material base for revisionism. We, also, have very different views on the relation between the party and the masses and between the state and the working class.

Line of March insists that the Soviet Union is socialist basically because the Soviet Union doesn’t match its own definition of capitalism. As we have indicated, the problem is that the capitalist model that LCM uses is private capitalist and 19th century competitive capitalism at that.

Marx, Engels, and Lenin all recognized the possibility of the form of state capitalism arising historically, and all of them saw the emergence of state capitalism as consistent with the Marxist theory of development. Engels, for example, wrote:

The more productive forces it (the state) takes ever into its possession, the more it becomes a real aggregate capitalist, the more citizens it exploits. The workers remain wage-workers, proletarians. The capitalist relationship is not abolished, rather it is pushed to the limit. (Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, p. 91)

The reason that Line of March refuses to understand state capitalism is that it regards the essence of capitalism as the competition among numerous individual capitals within a nation state. LOM sees wages determined “where capitalist and worker meet as buyer and seller, respectively, of labor power.” (LOM #4 p. 98) The Soviet bourgeoisie and the Soviet worker do meet in the marketplace, but the wages of the Soviet worker are determined primarily by the economic plan and only secondarily by the material incentives accessible at the enterprise level.

Line of March is correct that capital is always “private” in the sense that a capitalist class controls it and makes decisions about it in its own narrow class interests. But capital is not, in essence, an individual private affair. Moreover, the existence of capital as state capital by no means gets rid of the anarchy of production. There is competition among the different wings or special interests of the Soviet bourgeoisie, and this class cannot really resolve the fundamental crisis of the Soviet system, the signs of which can be seen in population trends, in agriculture, in declining rates of productivity and profits, as mentioned earlier.

Part of the reason that Line of March fails to understand how a socialist society like the Soviet Union can be transformed into a state capitalist system is that it can not pinpoint the main material, class basis for revisionism. LOM tries to focus our attention on three sources for a threat of capitalist restoration: the old ousted bourgeoisie, small-scale commodity production, and international capital. Obviously, after some years of socialism, we can eliminate the old ruling class as a serious threat. Small-scale commodity production, while not a primary source, has in fact played an important role through agriculture and in the “shadow economy” in complementing and helping provide an atmosphere conducive to the growth of large-scale state capitalism. International capital is a significant factor, but mainly in the sense that the Soviet bourgeoisie has to formulate its policies based on fierce competition with other imperialist rivals.

The fact that Line of March focusses on secondary sources of capitalist restoration results from its distorted concept of the relations of production. As we shall see, it is these relations of production, taken as. an integrated whole, that are the main material basis for the restoration of capitalism.

The relations of production have three basic components: (l) the forms of ownership of the means of production, (2) the division of labor or mutual relations between producers, and (3) the forms of distribution. Classes are defined not only by the relations that groups of people have to the forms of ownership of the means of production, but also, more comprehensively, by their relations to all three components. Lenin, for example, states that

Classes are large groups of persons, differing according to their places in the historically established system of social production, according to their relations (mostly fixed and formulated in laws) to the means of production, according to their roles in the social organization of labor and consequently according to their methods of obtaining and the size of the share of social wealth over which they dispose. (Lenin, A Great Beginning, Vol. 29, p. 421)

Line of March would like to split up this integrated definition of class. In talking about developing the forces of production under socialism, LOM tries to distinguish two kinds of relations of production – “basic relations of production” based on property forms: and “secondary relations of production.” According to LOM, these secondary relations of production are “not inherently class relations and stem principally from the relatively low level of the forces of production.” They go on to identify these secondary relations of production with the “inequality between town and country, the separation between mental and manual, and the overall oppressive character of the rigid social division of labor ... ” (LOM #4, p. 113)

Lenin was right (and LCM wrong) when he recognized these so-called secondary relations as inherently class relations. He said

Clearly in order to abolish classes completely, it is not enough to overthrow the exploiters ... not enough to abolish their rights of ownership; ... it is necessary to abolish the distinction between town and country, as well as the distinction between manual workers and brain workers. (Lenin, pp. cit.)

Line of March has to push these kinds of relations into the background because questions of the social division of labor deal with which classes hold real economic and political power in society.

While Marx, Engels, and. Lenin wrote extensively about the necessity of breaking up the old bourgeois state apparatus and building a genuinely democratic proletarian state in which the masses of working people would exercise real political power, Line of March avoids this question. For LOM, the contradiction between the workers and the state apparatus does not really exist, and certainly not as a class contradiction between a new ruling class monopolizing political power and the working class. When LOM sets itself the ambitious task of analyzing “The Universal Contradictions of Socialism” (LOM, #4 p. 112), the closest it comes to dealing with this question is to state “the relationship between the party and the class and the party and the state tend (sic) to get reified as perpetual divisions.” (ibid., p. 115) You try to figure out what this means.

Of course, Line of March agrees that the Communist Party of the Soviet Union is a revisionist party, although in LOM’s journal, the CPSU comes out looking better all the time. Having granted the CPSU’s revisionism, LOM feels compelled to deal with the question of “revisionism in state power.” (LOM, #4 p. 116) The problem is, ideologies don’t hold state power, as this phrase seems to suggest; classes hold state power. In the LOM scheme, it is logical that the masses have no real role to play in rectifying the CPSU. (LOM #9 p63-7l) Supposedly, the CPSU is expected to rectify itself without going through a process of mass criticism. LOM’s approach clearly reveals an elitist conception of the relation between the party and the masses.

Line of March tries to render absurd the arguments of those who believe capitalism has been restored in the Soviet Union by claiming that we reduce everything to what line the CPSU has. The line of any party is ultimately what it does in practice, not just what it says, and it develops as a party of the proletariat when it maintains and institutionalizes revolutionary links with that class. LOM, in focussing on the question of line, is just holding up a mirror to its own position on party building.

Line of March also tries to dismiss the position that the Soviet Union is capitalist by linking it with the class collaborationist three worlds theory. It is not difficult at all to see that these are two distinct positions. We must also repudiate those such as the Line of March who call now for a united front against fascism here in the United States (LOM #5, p.6), with the purpose of making the state capitalism of the Soviet Union look like a better, though tarnished alternative.

No matter how much Line of March wants to twist and turn, it still must face the question – which class holds state power in the Soviet Union? If you agree with them that the proletariat does, then you are led into vulgar apologetics for glaring injustice, exploitation, and oppression in Soviet society. You are also led to approve the latest Soviet imperialist adventure abroad, whether slaughtering peasants in Afghanistan or napalming them in Eritrea. Such a stand betrays the interests of not only the heroic Soviet working class which has accomplished so much in the past, but also the various peoples of the world who are oppressed and exploited by their Soviet “saviors.”