Questions on the "deformed workers' state", NEP, and state-capitalism
(from Communist Voice #17, April 20, 1998)
. I am enclosing 4 booklets published by the SLP. I am also enclosing a xerox copy of a booklet published by the Organization for a ML Worker's Party. The booklet on Cuba you might find interesting. I would appreciate any criticism, positive or negative.
. Could you explain the difference between the Trotskyist theory of the "Deformed Workers State" and the theory of "State Capitalism"? The reason I am asking you this question: The (NEP) New Economic Program, which was initiated by Lenin. The NEP restored a temporary form of capitalism to the USSR. Do you view this as State Capitalism?!
. What is your view of the Marxist concept of the corruption and bribery of the proletariat, due to the fact that the proletariat of the "advanced" imperialist countries share in the super-profits of the exploitation of the oppressed nations. I am not just talking about the U.S. workers, but also the workers of Western Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia, ETC!....
With proletarian regards,
Reply: Marxism vs. the Trotskyist theory of the "deformed workers' state"
and also against the De Leonist SLP
March 12, 1998
. You ask whether we view Lenin's NEP as "state capitalism." We do not think that temporarily employing certain capitalist methods during the transition to socialism proves that the society as a whole is state-capitalist. There are many objective reasons why it is impossible to abolish all the remnants of capitalism overnight. At the same time, I believe that the idea that the overall transition period to socialism is simply "state-capitalism" is wrong. There is a distinction between a state-capitalist society such as the system consolidated under Stalin, in China or in Cuba and a society making progress in bringing the mass of toilers into taking responsibility for establishing control and organization of the new economy.
. Lenin's hopes for the NEP period rested on the latter idea. Lenin considered socialism to be more than simply nationalization. Indeed, he was concerned that the revolution had found itself with more nationalized property than it had the ability to run. As well, the vast petty-production in the countryside could not decreed out of existence. In this situation, he put forward a series of measures aimed at bringing the capitalist features of the economy more under the control of the workers. If the workers could succeed in such control over the capitalist elements and organize themselves to work in a disciplined fashion, this would not yet be full social control of the means of production, but would be creating the conditions for this.
. While this was Lenin's conception of the NEP, this doesn't answer the question whether in practice the NEP era should be considered part of the transition to socialism or was society pretty much consolidating along state-capitalist lines. The NEP measures did mitigate the extreme antagonisms that had developed between the state power and some sections of the peasantry and workers. But were the workers making progress in asserting their control over society or had an irreconcilable gulf developed between the government and the toilers? As an organization, we have not reached a conclusion about how well this period measures up. Here I am merely raising that there are some criteria for differentiating a transition to socialism from that of revisionist state-capitalism.
. Regardless of where one places the NEP years however, I think that there's no doubt that an entrenched system of class oppression eventually developed in all the revisionist states. When anarchic production continues for 40 to 70 plus years and class stratification hardens, a new form of capitalism exists no matter whether the regime claims to be on the road to socialism or not. When the mass of workers are simply the ruled subjects of a bureaucratic elite, this is not a country in transition to socialism. When the theories promoted by the party and state leaders twist Marxism beyond recognition, set up roadblocks to revolutionary struggle and do not advocate change beyond a few tweaks of the status quo, this is not a revolutionary social system.
. The Trotskyist "deformed" or "degenerated workers' state" is a cover-up of societies that have long-ago abandoned any right to call themselves "workers' states". The Trotskyist theory is that until nationalized property is privatized, the economy is still basically socialist even though some bad bureaucrats may be running the country. Many Trotskyists will have criticisms of the bureaucrats and even call for "political" revolutions against them. But since these states are allegedly workers' states (minus the workers running anything!) the Trotskyist view winds up apologizing for numerous crimes of revisionists. As well, as the "political revolution" looks favorably on the present organization of state property, it balks at a social revolution and confines itself to changing the leadership.
. I briefly glanced at the SLP pamphlets you sent. Perhaps in my haste I have missed something, but here are my initial impressions. The SLP is right when it says the Castro regime is oppressing the workers. They point to any number of atrocities of the regime and knock down some of the hypocrisy of those who try to justify these crimes.
. However, they use the crimes of the Cuban bureaucrats to disparage the idea that the proletarian revolution requires a proletarian party. (1) Thus, the SLP claims that the bureaucratic methods of the Cuban party are the inevitable result of being a "vanguard" party.In other words, they dismiss the idea that the proletariat should form its own party composed of its most class conscious members which is supported by the workers and seeks to release their initiative in the building of the new society. And they chafe at the notion that such a party should take power as if this negates the workers' running society. The SLP fuming against the party concept is such that they wind up denouncing Cuban party members for doing such things as reporting administrative problems at the plant level to higher administrative bodies! They consider this as proof of opposing rank-and-file participation. Evidently the SLP thinks that if the workers have a complaint against bad local managers, it violates their initiative to raise the issue with higher bodies. Presumably it's only of concern to the workers of that plant and higher bodies representing the interests of a broader section of the workers should have no say in the affairs of "their" plant. This is in line with the anarcho-syndicalist De Leonist ideology of SLP. They hold that the trade union form of organization suffices to organize the revolutionary struggle and the future socialist society. For them, a proletarian party taking power would interfere with the only legitimate form (in their eyes) the "socialist industrial union." The De Leonists claimed that the socialist industrial union supplanted the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat as well. Their semi-anarchist approach was that as soon as the bourgeoisie was overthrown, the "political state" would cease to exist and along with it political parties.
. I noticed in one of the SLP pamphlets on the Soviet Union that they insist it is wrong to call the Soviet Union state-capitalist because something beyond capitalism has evolved there. The view that capitalism has been abolished is based on the idea that planning and state property are big factors. Thus, even though the SLP admits that there's "no universal interest in making the plan work" and "large elements of chaos" they hold that planning prohibits the economy from operating as it does in the pure market way. The problem with this is that if planning is what's restricting real capitalism from developing, then the lack of social planning that they admit to opens wide the door for the capitalist features they claim aren't characteristic. To get out of this difficulty, they fall back on the fact that the economy just doesn't look like the market economies. But why would the SLP expect state-capitalist economic forms to look just like the market forms?
. History has shown that the private interests in the Soviet Union were very powerful indeed. Thus, within the womb of state-capitalism, private capitalist interests emerged and shattered the old bureaucratic system. This confirms the falsity of the SLP view that planning prevented real capitalist interests from developing.
. You also ask about the bribery of the proletariat of the advanced countries due to super-profits
from the oppressed nations. That there is a stratum of bribed workers in the advanced countries is
true and it's true that the superprofits from imperialist world domination are a factor. I would not
agree that the working class in these countries as a whole is bribed. But the labor aristocracy, and
the trade union officialdom that has arisen from its ranks uses its privileged position to spread its
influence among the class as a whole. Our view is that there exists a basis to carry out
revolutionary work among the workers in the imperialist countries and counter the influence of
the bribed stratum. ...
Mark, for Communist Voice
(1) The following note was not part of the original reply. The SLP claims to uphold the need for a proletarian party. But the role of the party according to the SLP is essentially to cheer on the various mass organizations that develop in the workers' struggle. Thus, they rail against the party "leading" the workers struggles as an alleged hindrance. The SLP reduces the party to an educational association, not one that itself mobilizes the workers for revolutionary action. The SLP pays lip-service to opposing social-democratic ideas of trailing behind the spontaneous movement, but attacks the idea that a proletarian party should assign itself the duty of overcoming the limits of trade union consciousness.
. Of course, trade union consciousness, i.e., the realization that the workers need to battle the
employer over their immediate conditions, is something the workers spontaneously develop even
without a party. If there is no need of a party to take the mass of workers beyond what they
already know, then there's not much left for a proletarian party to do. In line with this, the SLP
denounces the idea of a party having some members who can devote full-time attention to the
needs of the revolutionary movement, that is, they denounce parties which have "professional
revolutionaries." Evidently its OK for the bourgeoisie to have professional strikebreakers,
professional political police, professional propagandists for reaction, but the proletariat has no
need of highly-trained leaders to combat the well-developed bourgeois apparatus of
repression.(Back to text.)
Last changed on October 17, 2001.