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The Development of Capitalism in Russia

Those who have read Lenin's Left Wing Communism. An Infantile Disorder, will recall that in an appendix he attacks the anti-parliamentary Italian "Lefts." This group, despite its extremist position, remained a part of the Italian section of the Third International until it was excluded by Stalin for supporting the Russian Left Opposition. This year the French followers of this group have brought out a very interesting pamphlet on Russia entitled L'Economie Russe d'Octobre à Nos Jours, which is summarised below. Note that in what follows we are summarising the pamphlet and not necessarily expressing our own opinions.

Lenin's plans

Before the Bolsheviks seized power in October, 1917 Lenin developed the theory that, as the Provisional Government was not prepared to carry the bourgeois revolution to its conclusion, the proletariat must take power. Once in power the proletariat would have to put into practice a number of immediate economic measures. These measures would not be socialist, but state capitalist. Lenin was impressed by war-time Germany where a form of state capitalism had been operated in the interests of the German capitalist class. What the proletariat in Russia must do, said Lenin, was to operate a similar state capitalist system but in their own interests.

War Communism

Once in power the Bolsheviks introduced these emergency measures ― confiscations, requisitions, various controls, rationing, nationalisation of the banks and the establishment of a state monopoly for foreign trade. None of these measures was in any way socialist or, indeed, regarded as such ― at least not in Russia. At this time the government was a coalition of Bolsheviks and Left Social-Revolutionaries {the peasant party). In agriculture the Bolsheviks were forced to grant the SR demand for the division of the landed estates among the peasants instead of their own demand for the nationalisation without compensation of landed property. In fact, as Lenin pointed out, there was nothing that could be done against this as the peasants had already expressed their views by seizing the land.

When the Soviet Government introduced its New Economic Policy in 1921 a number of Communists, inside and outside Russia, denounced this as a betrayal of socialism. As a matter of fact, however, there was nothing peculiarly socialist about this period of so-called "war communism". The measures adopted were those which any bourgeois government would have adopted in the similar circumstances of civil war, foreign intervention and the threat of famine. One of the measures of this period which particularly attracted Communists outside Russia was the forced requisition of agricultural produce from the peasants when needed as this implied the abolition of the market. But there was nothing socialist about this. The Soviet Government used the system which had been developed in feudal Russia for distributing corn in time of famine. Thus the requisitions of this period, far from being a form of Socialism, were simply the reappearance of a mediaeval phenomenon caused by special circumstances.

The New Economic Policy

By 1921 it was obvious that the expected world revolution had failed to materialise (due to the betrayals of the Social Democrats). This meant that the Bolsheviks had no choice: they had to let Capitalism develop in Russia. The Soviet Government realised this and adopted the policy of "state capitalism" developed by Lenin in 1917. This was defined as the development of Capitalism under the control and direction of the proletarian state.

Figures showed that in 1919 industrial production was only one-seventh of the pre-war figure. The virtual ending of the civil war allowed Capitalism to be developed again with the full approval of the Soviet Government. A number of the emergency measures taken in the period of "war communism" were rescinded to facilitate this development: some factories were handed back to their owners and a tax in kind was substituted for the forced requisitions. The Government saw as their main enemy the petty-peasant economy and decided to rely on Capitalism to do the work of destroying this for them. Lenin realised that there were dangers involved in this, but unlike those who accused him of betrayal he was a realist. He knew he had no choice. In his report to the XIth Congress of the Communist Party in March, 1922 Lenin quoted a passage from an émigré bourgeois newspaper which read :

“What sort of state is the Soviet government building? The communists say that it is a communist state and assure us that the new policy is a matter of tactics: the Bolsheviks are making use of the private capitalists in a difficult situation, but later they will get the upper hand. The Bolsheviks can say what they like; as a matter of fact it is not tactics but evolution, internal regeneration; they will arrive at the ordinary bourgeois state, and we must support them. History proceeds in devious ways. (Our emphasis.)

Lenin commented that this was quite possible and went on,

“History knows all sorts of metamorphoses. Relying on firmness of convictions, loyalty and other splendid moral qualities, is anything but a serious attitude in politics. A few people may be endowed with splendid moral qualities, but historical issues are decided by vast masses, which, if the few do not suit them, may at times treat them none too politely. “(quoted p. 57)

Lenin thus realised that nothing the Bolsheviks could do could prevent the development of Capitalism in Russia or, even, the degeneration of proletarian rule into the "ordinary bourgeois state". This is precisely what did happen in Russia. The "vast masses" behind Stalin working for the ordinary bourgeois state triumphed over the "splendid moral qualities" of the Left and Right Oppositions struggling to preserve proletarian rule.


In 1928 occurred the famous "turn to the Left" and Stalin began his policy of "de-kulakisation ". The kulaks, or rich peasants, were to be eliminated and peasant farms "collectivised". This policy was opposed by both the Left and the Right Opposition because they saw this as a step backward. They regarded it as the worse possible compromise with the peasant economy. For it smashed private capitalism in the countryside. But this private capitalism was a progressive force which NEP had wished to encourage precisely because it would lead to the weakening of the peasantry.

Stalin's "collectivisation" had the opposite effect. It has led to the stabilisation of peasant economy. For the collective farm is a static form which shows no tendency to evolve toward the expropriation of the peasantry. Khrushchev by denationalising the machine and tractor stations has strengthened the peasantry even further. The collective farm is nothing new in Russian history. In the middle ages there existed similar peasant corporations, the cartels, where the more important means of production were held in common while the peasants retained their individual house and surrounding land, some livestock and tools. This is precisely the position of the collective farm today پ\ and the importance of the private plot for Soviet agriculture should not be underestimated. In 1960 33 per cent. of cattle were raised on family plots, 48 per cent. of cows, 31 per cent. of pigs and 22 per cent. of sheep (p. 80).

Soviet agriculture has been in a state of chronic crisis since Stalin's forced collectivisation. The table below shows that, except as far as pigs are concerned, the figures for the various types of livestock per inhabitant the situation was worse in 1960 than in 1916.

A similar situation exists with regard to grain production: "the production per inhabitant was 576kg in 1913; it had been 610 kg in 1960 (1950?), but only 588.6 in 1959" (p. 119).

Three sectors in Soviet agriculture can be distinguished today : State capitalist (the State farms), private capitalist (the collective farms in their co-operative aspect) and sub-capitalist (the family plot).

LIVESTOCK (millions)         1916    1960

Cattle  58.8     75.8

Cows   28.8     34.8

Pigs     23        58.6

Sheep/Goats    96.3     132.9


INDEX OF LIVESTOCK (per head)  1916    1960    % change

Cattle  100      82        -18.00%

Cows   100      77        -23.00%

Pigs     100      163      63.00%

Sheep/Goats    100      98        -2.00%


Industrial Development

The Russians and their apologists are very fond of pointing with pride at the figures showing industrial development in Russia and saying that only a socialist economy could do this. But consider the figures :

Years      Average annual increase per head

1922-28             23%

1929-32             19.2%

1933-37             17.1%

1938-40             13.2%

1941-46             -4.3%

1947-51             22.6%

1951-55             13.1%

1956-60             10.4%

It is quite clear from these figures that not only is the law of the decreasing annual rate of increase verified for Russian capitalism as for others. But they also show that war and invasion provided a stimulant to expansion as in other capitalist countries. Nor is the increase due, as the modern Trotskyists claim, to State planning. The figures show that the highest annual rate was achieved in the years 1922-8 when there were no plans. The same figure would have been realised if the 1918-22 civil war had been lost and a huge trust of Western enterprises had developed the country instead of the Stalinist State. The figures were achieved as "the result of the revolutionary elimination of mediaeval obstacles to economic development, and (were) not at all the product of red or white brains" (p. 91).


All we know about the Russian economy has shown us that the development of production there has followed the directing lines of capitalism in passing through its two stages: revolutionary installation of bourgeois economic and social structures first; consolidation of these structures afterwards. Between 1928 and 1952, Russian pre-capitalism has become a fully-developed capitalism and this process has transformed Russia into a modern and "civilised" country.

Apologists for Russia call this "the construction of Socialism." Furthermore, the fantastic development of production they call "communism" and they insert between these two stages the transition from "Socialism" to "Communism," which in fact is only the stabilisation of the capitalist forms of production and life" (p. 130).

The present Russian vision of ever-rising wages and ever-falling prices seems to show that they want to deal with "commodities, value, money, and all the features of capitalist production forever." But this has nothing to do with the “communism described time and time again, from the first erudite texts of the young Marx to the theoretical analyses perfect in their conciseness, of the fundamental book of our doctrine, Capital ― this communism will finally realise the end of capital, of wages, of commodities, of money, of the market and of the firm" (p. 131, their emphasis).

We would agree with this conclusion. There are, however, a number of views expressed in this pamphlet which we would not endorse. We would not agree that Russia had a "proletarian state" until the Left Opposition was defeated. Even under Lenin it was quite evident that the Soviet Government because it was developing capitalism was coming into conflict with the Russian working class. Nor would we agree that the rule of the Bolshevik organisation was equivalent to the rule of the working class. In October, 1917, not the working class but the Bolshevik organisation seized power. Certainly at the same time interesting makeshift organs of administration, the Soviets, appeared, but the Bolsheviks soon saw that their power was replaced by the rule of the Bolshevik Party. The Russian revolution was, in our view, essentially a bourgeois resolution. Of course, peculiarly Russian conditions determined the particular form of this bourgeois revolution ― a revolutionary intelligentsia leading the working class and peasantry against Tsarism and the bourgeoisie ― but its content was unmistakenly bourgeois. This is why Bolshevism should be seen not as a working class trend but as a bourgeois-revolutionary theory using Marxist terminology and concepts.

The pamphlet can be obtained from "Programme Communiste," Boîte Postale No. 375, Marseille-Colbert, France, for 4 New Francs.

A. L. B.