I would be very interested to know the SPGB policy on Cuba, China and the USSR. Conceptions like the abolition of wages which the SPGB advocates are beginning to take place in Cuba. I can understand that the SPGB have a very good case for saying that the USSR is a state capitalist society, but the problem seems much less clear on Cuba or China.
Do the SPGB imagine that socialism could possibly be achieved without force in Cuba to create a social democracy if not a socialist society.*
C. D. E. Meesom
Why does Mr Meesom think “that the SPGB have a very good case for saying that the USSR is a state capitalist society”? From the earliest days of Bolshevik power the Socialist Party argued that only capitalism could emerge there and since the late 1920s we have applied the state capitalist label to Russia. Over the years more and more people have come to accept this but many have done so without fully understanding how capitalism works. Thus we now have Maoist groups referring to the ‘red bourgeoisie’ in the Kremlin and attempting to prove that Russia must be capitalist by the foreign policy it pursues. Similarly there are groups of dissident Bolsheviks who identify the consolidation of capitalism in Russia with Stalin’s triumph over Trotsky and the other opposition forces. But although Russia does, of course, pursue a capitalist foreign policy and although Stalin was instrumental in industrialising the Soviet Union on a state capitalist basis, these are not the basic reasons why Russia must be a capitalist country (and why China and Cuba must be as well).
Because of the way in which the capitalist system works, the ruling class of any country is not a free agent but is subject to certain pressures which act on it remorselessly. It must compete with rival ruling groups for markets and supplies of raw materials and, such is the pace of industrial innovation in the modem world, it must continually accumulate capital — and at an ever-increasing rate. When Marx produced his analysis of 19th-century British capitalism in Capital he noticed how this affected individual factory owners:
. . . the development of capitalist production makes it constantly necessary to keep increasing the amount of capital laid out in a given industrial undertaking, and competition makes the immanent laws of capitalist production to be felt by each individual capitalist, as external coercive laws. It compels him to keep constantly extending his capital, in order to preserve it, but extend it he cannot except by means of progressive accumulation. (Capital, Vol. I. Moscow, 1961. p592).
Today these same pressures can best be seen acting on whole industries and on entire national capitals, since capitalist development has virtually eliminated the individual factory owner of Marx’s day. Faced with this inescapable need to accumulate capital, the rulers of any country have only one way in which they can act — just like the 19th-century mine master or steel lord they must attempt to increase the amount of surplus value they are wringing out of the working class. So, to take the most obvious example, the pressures of world capitalism acting on Mao and these Chinese leadership are forcing them to develop a modern industrial base (which involves a nuclear weapons programme) just as a generation earlier Stalin had to set his sights on ‘catching up with America’. And the development of steel plants, power stations, and nuclear weapons in China is being paid for, as always, in working-class misery.
If we turn to Cuba, it would be a simple matter to point to various features of that island which prove that it cannot be socialist. We could refer to the opponents of the regime in jail (anarchists, trotskyists, even out-of-favour members of the ruling party such as Escalante), to the semi-Stalinist attitude of the authorities towards Cuban artists, to Castro’s support for the invasion of Czechoslovakia. But what really proves Cuba state capitalist again is the way its economy works. The aim is to build up industry and to mechanise agriculture and this is being achieved by screwing down the working class (not in an absolute sense — the workers are better educated, probably healthier than under Batista — but in a relative sense, by extracting more surplus value from them). As Che Guevara put it: “The working class is not putting forth its full effort”.
As for utopian experiments such as the ‘Island of Youth’ (formerly the Island of Pines) where only low wages are being paid and such things as food and housing are supplied free we have already dealt with these in an earlier Socialist Standard
). As we said then, “the Island of Pines must be seen within the context of the overall state capitalist economy”.
Finally, Mr. Meesom asks if we think Socialism can be established ‘without force’. The Socialist Party has always held that political power should be used to establish Socialism. In other words the state machine, which is the public power of coercion, will be used to force the capitalists to give up their privileges and hand over their wealth to the community. Whether or not this use of political power will involve actual physical violence — the setting in motion of the armed forces, the firing of guns and the killing of people — will depend entirely on the reaction of any pro-capitalist minority at the time of the socialist victory at the polls.
We think it unlikely that, faced with a determined socialist majority in control of political power, a small pro-capitalist minority would be so foolish as to take up arms to prevent the establishment of Socialism. But if a violent minority tried to prevent the implementation of a democratically expressed will for Socialism, then the socialist majority would have to use violence against them. As the old Chartist and socialist slogan put it: “Peaceably if we may; forcibly if we must”.
* We reproduce Mr. Meesom’s letter exactly as he wrote it. We would say that only socialism will be a social democracy.