1920s >> 1929 >> no-304-december-1929

A Soviet Apologia

“An Outline of Political Economy.” I. Lapidus and K. Ostrovityanov. (Martin Lawrence, 12/6. 546 pages.)

The above volume reminds one very forcibly of the curate’s egg. Roughly, half of it is occupied with a summary review of Marx’s conclusions concerning Capitalist society generally, and this is done, on the whole, simply, accurately and clearly. The main aim of the book, however, is obviously not the popularisation of Marxism, but the vindication of the claim of the Bolshevik rulers of Russia to be Marxists.

In their introduction the authors state that, “Together with the laws governing the productive relations of Capitalist economy, we shall also study the laws of Soviet economy.”

“The peculiar feature of Soviet economy lies in the fact that it is in transition from Capitalism to Socialism.” (p. 4.) The attempt to prove this claim takes the form of chapters interspersed among those presenting the Marxian analysis.

For example, after three chapters dealing with value and surplus value, Marx does a rapid fade-out and the limelight is focussed on Lenin, who in 1918 specified the various economic elements in Russia as follows :—

  • Patriarchal, i.e., largely self-sufficing, peasant economy.
  • Petty commodity production (this includes the majority of those peasants who sell grain).
  • Capitalist production.
  • Elements of State Capitalism.
  • Elements of Socialism, (p. 92.)

By State Capitalism Lenin appears to have meant undertakings which were bound to the State by some agreement (such as concessions, leases, trading commissions, etc.) as distinct from undertakings actually run by the State itself.

These latter he classed as “Socialist,” and gave as his reasons that “the State is the workers, the leading section of the workers, the advance guard—it is ourselves.” (p. 93.)

Somewhat reminiscent of the French kings, “The State? that is me !” This statement of Lenin’s is the only evidence which the authors offer throughout their volume to support the claim that the workers of Russia are supplanting Capitalism by Socialism. This claim, however, has been repeatedly exploded in these columns, most recently in the issues of August and September, 1929.

Once grant their claim and the rest is easy. Surplus-value becomes surplus-product, since the former phrase implies exploitation which cannot be admitted to exist in State industry ! Wage-slavery likewise is “non-existent” in the State workshops, although the workers therein are paid wages ! Curiously enough these workers “also strive first and foremost to obtain as high a wage as possible.” They fail to recognise “the radical difference” between Soviet production and the usual forms of Capitalism. “This explains the existence o] standards of output and piece-isiork payment in Soviet State industry.” (p. 132.) (Italics the authors’.)

Apparently the workers in Russia have taken possession of the industries there without knowing it.

In spite of their “Marxism,” the authors are not above trotting out the stale Capitalist argument about the necessity for the workers “producing more.” Thus (on p. 127) we are told that :—

“Granted an unchanging productivity of labour, the higher the wage the greater will be the expenditure for each commodity turned out by the worker, and the dearer will be the cost of that commodity; and thus the worker himself will have to pay more when purchasing it (thus neutralising the rise in wages).”

The I.L.P. could not beat this !

The authors make no attempt to deny “the facts that the Soviet workers live in greater poverty and on no higher a standard than the workers of the foremost Capitalist countries, and the workers in the State enterprises sometimes live under worse conditions than the workers in private enterprises.” (p. 100.)

They do claim, however, that as the workers’ productivity rises so does their share of the produce. But their own figures hardly bear out the claim. According to the table shown on page 135 wages rose only 60 per cent. in the two years, 1923-1925 while productivity rose nearly 90 per cent. !

On page 210 we have another glaring example of the authors’ fondness for verbal conjuring tricks.

“That part of the surplus product created by the workers in State industry which is appropriated by the merchant capitalist is transformed into surplus-value. Thus exploitation can penetrate partially into Soviet State industry through the channel of private trade.”

Thus if the State sells its goods through a merchant the workers are exploited, but not otherwise ! Much play is made with the fact that the State builds schools, organises defence, supervises health, etc., oblivious of the fact that Tory, Liberal and Labour Governments do the same thing here.

On the subject of State finance very little is said, but the following paragraph (p. 264) illustrates which class really owns the State industries :—

“As to the rate of interest, it is quite high in the U.S.S.R. The rate of interest is higher still on the clandestine exchange. The high rate of interest in the U.S.S.R. is due to the insufficiency of capital, in which there is such a stringency owing to the very rapid growth of Socialist (!) construction.”

In other words, Russia has a special brand of ultra-revolutionary “Socialism” which is financed by the Capitalist class and is, of course, State Capitalism.

Figures are given showing the rapid recovery of State industry to the low pre-war level which had been lost.

In spite of the overwhelming importance of agriculture we are told (p. 504) that “The productive potentialities of individual peasant agriculture have not yet been exhausted.” Rykov declared (“The Present Situation,” 1928) that the State organisation of peasant co-operatives “is now the most important task of the party.” Yet (p. 529) we learn, “the collective and Government farms put together now produce a total of a little over 2 per cent. of farm products and supply 7 per cent. of the farm products on the market. Their relative strength, as compared with the millions of small farmers, is negligible.”

The transition is evidently not from Capitalism to Socialism, but to the former from semi-feudal forms of land tenure. The much-vaunted State planning schemes are but the emergency measures thrust upon the urban population by agrarian upheaval and the industrial collapse brought about by the strain of modern warfare upon a backward nation.

The transition from Capitalism to Socialism can only commence when and where the productive forces have outstripped capitalist ownership. They have not done that yet in Russia.

In conclusion, it may be noted that the “Sunday Worker” review (October 13th) passes over entirely the points in the above volume of interest to the Socialist worker.

Its chief complaint is that the authors ignore the principal bugbear of the British petty-bourgeois—”the money monopoly” —and uncritical praise is meted out to its “dialectical method.” When the Bolsheviks try to explain away what is obvious (namely, the exploitation of the workers in Russia) they make much play with the “dialectics,” but like Hegel they stand it on its head. They appear to imagine that things can be changed by changing their names. For the last twenty or thirty years we have fought a similar tendency in this country, namely, Fabianism, according to which the Post Office and the tramways are “ours” ! Now the Communists are carrying on the same tradition of confusion under new names.

E. B.

(Socialist Standard, December 1929)

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