I want to make a few comments on the Critique Social articles. I think that the Russian revolution article is well-thought out and makes good points. But the whole notion of “state capitalism” is a dubious one. The Soviet Union and China before the “reforms” were clearly class societies, with a very clear difference between the group of people who made decisions and the vast majority—workers—who carried them out. But they differed from capitalist societies in major ways. Capital was not accumulated—there was no build- up of monetary capital, and that, as Luxemburg emphasizes, is the aim of capitalist society. Capital, indeed power to make decisions, could not be inherited, as it can be in capitalist societies.
If we call these societies “state capitalist” we make a mystery out of the very real differences to the populations themselves between theses economies and capitalist ones. Look at the major difference in development in China and India over the last sixty years, from similar states of devastation at the end of WWII. Look at the total collapse of standard of living and culture after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.
There is no law of human nature that says that capitalism is the only form of class society that can exist in the present. What I would call “bureaucratic society” is a distinct form of class society different from capitalist society. But unlike capitalist society, such bureaucratic societies are incapable of prolonged existence (they can last decades, not centuries) and cannot become, as capitalism as, global systems. They are a “meta-stable” form of society that can greatly accelerate the industrialization of a country, but hold back the development of a fully industrialized economy and inevitably decay back to capitalism.
There can be no real doubt that the people of the Russian Empire, China and Cuba benefited materially from the Revolutions that gave rise to the bureaucratic regimes. State ownership of industry, even with bureaucratic, dictatorial rule, can objectively develop countries, and raise standards of living much faster than capitalism can. Would these populations have benefited far more if there had been in 1919-23 or 1945-49 a world socialist revolution, giving power to a democratically organized global working class? Of course. And in that case, their gains would be secure, while with the bureaucratic regimes, the future is a return to capitalism. And in the case of the ex-Soviet states, that inevitable return has meant the loss of a huge part of the gains made by the earlier bureaucratic regime.
We have to be able to explain control both why bureaucratic rule could industrialize more quickly than capitalism, and why, once industrialization occurs, it holds productive force back even worse than capitalism, as occurred in the Soviet Union after 1965.
In a related way, the article on perspectives for emancipation seems very vague on what is the alternative to, on the one hand capitalism and on the other bureaucratic rule. We have to start talking about what democratic control of a global economy could possibly look like. We have to talk concretely about how bureaucratic rule can’t run an industrialized society and why. The problem of socialism is not just that the ruling class does not want to give up power. The working class does not know why they have to take power and why they can’t just give their trust to better people to run the economy—why that simply can’t work. Why do workers have to run the economy democratically if the economy is not to collapse into ruin?
These are some of the questions we have to address in future articles.
Comradely greetings on May Day!