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Was the economy of the USSR "state capitalist"?

0 votes
I've seen this claim made quite a bit, even by some self-described anarchists. It seems like a bit of polemical sophistry whipped up in defense of non-Leninist-Stalinist variants of communism/ socialism. Is this notion even coherent? Where did it come from? Does it have any polemical value for anarchists? If i were to described any economy as "state capitalist" it would be contemporary People's Republic of China where numerous private corporations have been set up and funded by the state, and all of the previously communalized holdings are being privatized.
asked Feb 22, 2011 by enkidu (6,110 points)
edited Feb 22, 2011 by enkidu
The Soviet economy was hierarchical and wage-based, with property ownership (by the State) thus retaining the essential features of capitalism within a state socialist (command economy) framework.
Capitalism cannot be run by the State.  It runs counter to voluntary exchange.  China's economy is corporatist like ours.  And just because an economy has some features of capitalism, that does not make that economy capitalist.  If the State has any greater involvement in the affairs of business, beyond enforcing contractual agreements between it and other parties, then the State has moved us that far from capitalist paradise.

5 Answers

+1 vote
Lenin used the term in a positive sense, while many other non-Leninist communists took it to be an insulting description of the Bolshevik-controlled economy.

From Wikipedia:   

 Reality tells us that state capitalism would be a step forward. If in a small space of time we could achieve state capitalism, that would be a victory. (Lenin 1918)[13]
Lenin's Collected Works Vol. 27, p. 293
answered Feb 23, 2011 by lawrence (13,560 points)
0 votes
I use "state-for-capitalism" and "state-as-capitalist". The first indicates a situation such as in the U$ where the military and police powers and courts and laws all have a broad consensus that they should uphold and extend corporate power. The second describes a situation such as in the former USSR where the government effectively acted as a profiteering uber-monopolist. In the contemporary time of general government insolvency we can see the second also in the form of increasing fine-based vice laws, ticket and fine quotas, asset seizures relating to drug busts, etc. wherein the state powers increase their funding through profit-motivated monopoly law enforcement. The word "state capitalist" seems too vague to use beyond the realm of academic Marxists, so I prefer my more specific terms. Somewhere between those rests China, which I don't know enough about to comment, but probably someone with enough familiarity could determine whether the Chinese state merely overall defends the interests of capitalists there or if it has a strong profit motive associated with Chinese corporate power.
answered Feb 23, 2011 by AutumnLeavesCascade (8,910 points)
+3 votes
The critique of state capitalism from the "non-Leninist" communist position really started with CLR James & Raya Dunayevskaya's "State Capitalism and World Revolution".  They analyzed the industrialization of the USSR from the 20s to the 40s, and noted its employment of the Taylorist assembly line models and its similarity to the Fordism in America. They observed that Soviet factories were just as, if not moreso, exploitative as those in the West,  and made no attempt to create worker self-management.  There's a funny anecdote, IIRC, about how Soviet universities had to stop teaching Das Kapital to their economics students, as the students could not (and rightly so) tell how the Soviet model differed from the West. James & Dunayevskaya concluded that, on the macro level, the Soviet Economy functioned just as capitalist enterprise, but with the state acting as the only corporate body of the economy.
answered Feb 25, 2011 by esira (180 points)
0 votes
State capitalism is really a misnomer, if not an oxymoron. Capitalism is defined by relations of property/production, in which individuals or groups are entitled to own the means of production, and by extension commercial property. This ownership is sanctioned and guaranteed by the state. If the state does not sanction and guarantee this kind of ownership but instead entitles itself to monopolistic ownership over production and property (as existed in the USSR) then capitalism, for all intents and purposes, does not exist. Private ownership of the means of production is the hallmark of capitalism. That said, these catagories are not black and white. However, the more private ownership of production you have, and the more this private ownership is enshrined in law, the more quintessentially the society can be described as capitalist.
In light of this, China, with its burgeoning private economy, is best understood as a country in transition from socialism to capitalism, not from state socialism to state capitalism.
answered Mar 27, 2011 by Peter Moss (170 points)
edited Mar 27, 2011 by Peter Moss
If the State is sanctioning ownership, who are the capitalists?
+1 vote
I know this term as used by Guy Debord and I find it pretty much accurate. And it is nothing like the Chinese economy, neither it is an apologetic sophistry in favor of non-Leninist communists. It comes from the interpretation of Bureaucracy as a class that collectively owns a country's capital and continues the exploitation of the proletariat in a different form.

Here is an excerpt from The Society of The Spectacle(http://www.bopsecrets.org/SI/debord/4.htm):

"The industrialization of the Stalin era revealed the bureaucracy’s ultimate function: continuing the reign of the economy by preserving the essence of market society: commodified labor. It also demonstrated the independence of the economy: the economy has come to dominate society so completely that it has proved capable of recreating the class domination it needs for its own continued operation; that is, the bourgeoisie has created an independent power that is capable of maintaining itself even without a bourgeoisie. The totalitarian bureaucracy was not “the last owning class in history” in Bruno Rizzi’s sense; it was merely a substitute ruling class for the commodity economy. An impotent capitalist property system was replaced by a cruder version of itself — simplified, less diversified, and concentrated as the collective property of the bureaucratic class."

Hope this helps you.
answered Apr 3, 2011 by piper65 (140 points)