State capitalism

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at columbia.edu
Sat Jul 22 17:45:47 MDT 1995


Louis Proyect

Lenin referred to "state capitalism" numerous times within the context of
the NEP. It meant introducing capitalist property relations in a limited
framework within a state ruled by the proletariat. For example in a
speech to the 11th party congress in 1922, Lenin says, "Never before in
history has there been a situation in which the proletariat, the revolutionary
vanguard, possessed political power and had state capitalism existing
alongside it. The whole question turns on our understanding that this is
the capitalism we can must permit, that we can and must confine within
certain bounds; for this capitalism is essential for the broad masses of
the peasantry and for private capital, which must trade in such a way as
to satisfy the needs of the peasantry."

A new understanding of the term emerged in the Trotskyist movement in the
1930's. James Burnham and Max Schachtman, in a debate with Trotsky,
characterized the Soviet Union as "state capitalist". By this they meant
that Stalin and the top layer of Soviet society constituted a new class,
which was just as much a class as the proletariat or the bourgeosie.
Trotsky argued that they were merely a bureaucratic caste, sort of like
the trade union officialdom, and had no independent class status.

There are many today who uphold this analysis. A not unsubstantial group
in England called the Socialist Workers Party (not to be confused with
the sectarian, workerist cult that goes by the same name in the United
States) subscribes to these views. The English SWP includes within its
ranks one Alex Callinicos, who, for my money, is one of the most brilliant
Marxist philosophers on the scene today and whose book "Against
Postmodernism" is a must-read.


On Sat, 22 Jul 1995, jwalker wrote:

> Here's a quick question, I hope: recently I heard someone make reference
> to the old Soviet Union as being not communist, but instead "state
> capitalist".
>
> What does that mean?
>
>
>
> John D. Walker
> Department of Philosophy
> UNC - Chapel Hill
> jwalker at email.unc.edu
>
>
>
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>
>
>


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