1920s >> 1928 >> no-289-september-1928

The Progress of Capitalism in Russia.

The Socialist Party carries on in this country propaganda for Socialism and against Capitalism. At the same time it does not disapprove of the efforts to build up Capitalism in Russia. To those who are unacquainted with the Socialist case, this may appear to be inconsistent, but it is, in fact, both consistent and sound. The Socialist does not oppose Capitalism at all times and in all places. He does not hold that the capitalist system of producing and distributing wealth is “wrong” or that the Capitalists, individually, or in the mass, are “selfish” and “wicked,” and are, therefore, to be condemned. We do not base our opposition to Capitalism or to slavery on the ground that it is “unjust” for one class to be employers and another class employees, or one class slave-owners and another class slaves. If we committed ourselves to to the view that all class divisions are “wrong,” that would be equivalent to saying that for thousands of years the human race has been straying from the correct path of development, and that the whole of human history since the breakdown of the earliest forms of tribal communism and equality has been a ghastly and avoidable mistake.

Our view is quite different from this. The driving force in the development of human society has been the development of the means of production and distribution of wealth. Knowledge has accumulated, and man’s power over nature, his ability to produce tools and machinery has grown, and as this process has gone on, so it has been possible for human beings to enter into different relationships with each other for the fullest utilisation of their growing power over natural forces. Thus, to take a simple illustration, from the time when a man could first produce a larger quantity of food and clothing than was necessary to keep him, it became possible for a military, or priestly, or a slave-owning class, to come into being, and for social relationships to take on a very different form. That development was not a “mistake” or a “crime,” or an “act of tyranny.” It was a differentiation of function, similar to any other division of labour. It was in keeping with the mode of production and the needs of society of that epoch.

In due course, as knowledge continued to grow, other changes became possible, and with more or less effort society has rid itself of slave-owners, military castes, feudal barons and other classes when the function they performed ceased to be necessary. In highly-developed Capitalist countries like Great Britain, the Capitalist class have ceased to play a part for which society has need. We propose to get rid of Capitalism because the means of production have developed to a point where Socialism—social ownership—is possible. We propose to dispense with the Capitalist class because we can now do without them. The production and distribution of wealth, including so- called “brain-work,” and managerial work, are, in the main, already carried on by wage and salary earners, not by Capitalists. The Capitalist class have become more and more mere receivers of rent, interest and profit.

The position of Russia is quite different. Russian industry has not reached a high stage of development; the Russian workers are only a tiny minority of the population; the great majority being backward peasant cultivators, whose interest it is to defend and promote private ownership of the land. Russia’s industry has need of precisely those qualities and services supplied in this country by past generations of Capitalists. Russia has not passed through Capitalism, and must do so.

Many of the Russian Bolsheviks have seen all along that their task was to hasten as much as possible the development of Capitalism in Russia, but, unfortunately, their muddle-headed supporters in this country have spent the last ten years or so defending a non-existent Russian “Socialism.” In fact, Russian industry is entirely Capitalistic. There is—as in Capitalist industry generally—a propertyless class of wage-earners on the one hand, and on the other a class of Capitalist investors in addition to the foreign Capitalists brought in to work “concessions.” The progress that is being made in the development of Capitalism is indicated by the internal loan of 500 million roubles (£52,000,000) just issued by the Russian Government for the purpose of financing industry and agriculture. It represents about half of the total amount being devoted this year by the Government to economic development. In 1927, the amount raised by loan for this purpose was only 200 million roubles. Half the loan for 1928 bears 6 per cent, interest, plus lottery prizes, and half of it no interest, but with a premium on repayment (Manchester Guardian, July 27).

Thus we see the rapid rise in Russia of an investing class, not because the Bolsheviks prefer Capitalism to Socialism, but because they have no choice. Russia’s immediate industrial development and her more distant progress towards Socialism lie along the path of Capitalism.

At the same time, the Russian Government are planning to spend £100,000,000 in the next three years on the creation of 100 huge State farms with the twofold object of growing grain for export and also of demonstrating the superiority of Capitalist agriculture to peasant proprietorship. It is anticipated that “good and secure wages” will attract the poorer peasants to seek employment in these State Capitalist concerns. (Sunday Worker, August 12.)

This development of Capitalism is gratifying, but only harm has come, and can come, from the pretence of English Communists that Russian Capitalism is something else. The inevitable accompaniment of Russian Capitalism is the sharpening of the conflict between the contending classes, wageworkers, Capitalists, and peasant proprietors. The achievement of the Communists in Great Britain is to give the opponents of Socialism an excuse to use these class conflicts in Russia as evidence of the failure of Socialism; whereas, in truth, they are merely an unavoidable feature of Capitalism.

Edgar Hardcastle