Is the NEP or the welfare state socialism?
Louis N Proyect
lnp3 at columbia.edu
Mon Apr 10 08:24:02 MDT 1995
Yesterday at the Socialist Scholars Conference in NY, I heard Jim
Lawler, a sometime contributor to this list, and another panelist speak
on "New Perspectives for Socialist Transformation".
Lawler's paper--I believe--is available from the Marxism FTP site. The
central idea in it is that the NEP was actually the type of socialism that
Lenin would have preferred to seen built in the USSR had he lived.
Furthermore, the NEP was more consistent with classical Marxist
notions of the transition to communism than the latter model adopted
by Stalin (but supported by Trotsky as well) that incorporated 5 year
plans, extensive state ownership, etc. Of course, to get the full
dimensions of Lawler's thoughts on the matter, I suggest FTP'ing his
His co-panelist, whose name I don't recall, defended the idea that the
welfare state is identical to socialism. When there is extensive social
legislation and state intervention into the economy in places like the
Scandanavian countries, that is socialism. What will happen, over
centuries perhaps, is that the private sector will be eroded until
communism is achieved.
Both speakers drew analogies with the transition from feuadalism to
capitalism. This transition took centuries and the 2 property forms co-
existed for a long time. In the transition from capitalism to socialism,
we will see something of the same nature. There will be state-owned
enterprises, worker buy-outs of private companies, state regulation of
the market, etc. This will increase until the capitalist is squeezed out,
in the same manner as the feudal baron was eventually squeezed out.
I reject this notion since it is based on a false analogy.
Capitalism took root and spread for a very simple reason. It was a
more dynamic system than feudalism. Since it is based on commodity
exchange, it overturns existing social relations in its relentless drive
for profit. It tends to revolutionize the means of production and uproot
traditional social relations. In essence, it is like an avalanche whose
thrust is nearly impossible to resist.
No such case can be made for the type of "socialist" forms that Lawler
and the other speaker upheld as models. Workers' cooperatives in
Spain, Sweden or Nicaragua are not the equivalent of the Italian city-
states of the 14th and 15th centuries. There is no internal economic
law which will fuel the growth of such forms as was the case in the
early stages of capitalism. Such forms are weak, evanescent and totally
dependent on the relationship of class forces in a given country at a
given time. For example, in Nicaragua, the cooperatives that sprang to
life under the Sandinista government are now evaporating. So, for that
matter, are the main features of the welfare state in the advanced
capitalist countries. The Gingrich revolution's goal is to dismantle the
legacy of the New Deal, while in Europe Social Democracy is evolving
in a Clintonian direction. The welfare state is in jeopardy.
There is no analogy between the transition from feudalism to
capitalism and the transition from capitalism to socialism. All
capitalism does is create a larger and larger mass of proletarians. It
throws them together in larger and larger industrial enterprises, in
larger and larger urban concentrations, while increasing the rate of
exploitation day by day. The global restructuring along the lines of
GATT and NAFTA that is taking place today is nothing less than the
continuing march of capital that began in the 15th century and was
only briefly interrupted in the period from 1917 to 1987. Socialism
will not come into existence gradually with the introduction of
cooperatives, social legislation, etc. It will come into existence through
the violent but defensive revolutionary struggle of the oppressed who
will then use the power of the state to consciously regulate economic
production and distribution. Any other notions of the transition from
capitalism to socialism are simply self-deceptions.
Louis Proyect (unrepentant Bolshevik)
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