Russia : from workers state to state capitalism

Adam Rose adam at
Wed Jun 5 03:26:38 MDT 1996

> Louis: This is particularly germane to the question of how much the USSR
> can serve as a model. Adam says that 1928 is the dividing line.
> Pre-1928 = socialist. Post-1928 = state-capitalist. Anybody who looks at
> Soviet history in any kind of depth will come to the conclusion that
> worker's power is a dubious notion at best when describing this period.
> There was no "worker's power" during War Communism. The CP ran Russia as a
> garrison state in a manner that would make the Cuban CP look like a
> debating society at Oxford (well, not an exact analogy, but you get the
> point.) When the NEP was instituted, the Russian working-class was
> completely atomized. The CP acted as its "dauphin" in order to get the
> economy moving again. Its partners in this effort were kulaks and NEP-men.
> What took place in this period was all too reminiscent of the Chinese
> "experiment" today.

A serious argument, but one that caricatures what I actually said.
As Louis has realised, it is crucial to my arguments over both
Cuba + the USSR.

So first of all I shall quote myself :-) :

> From adam Mon Jun  3 15:07:15 1996
> To: marxism at
> Subject: Re: Cuba and "empirical facts"
> It became state capitalist in 1928.
> Until then, it was in various stages of degeneration, or whatever
> you might want to call it.

Immediately after the revolution, Russia clearly was a commune state in the
literal sense - reading Victor Serge's "Year Zero" would convince anyone of

Lenin's plans for the post revolutionary Russia, where capitalists would still
be allowed to run industry, were swept away in the revolutionary atmoshpere.
Workers simply took control of their factories, whether or not their owners
had fled Russia.

Gradually, though, the civil war took its toll. Those workers who had gone
through the three revolutions, who were probably second generation workers,
in particular the more revolutionary workers, went to the front and fought.

In a country where a majority, or even a numerically significant minority,
were workers, fighting a war like this would not significantly alter the basic
nature of the state. But in Russia, where workers were a small minority of the
population, it did.

We can argue about dates. But certainly by the time of Kronstadt in 1921,
the workers state in the full sense had ceased to exist. Two elements of it
remained : the top leadership of the state, although surrounded by an essentially
czarist bureaucrcacy, remained committed to international socialist revolution;
and there were still remnants of the gains of the revolution in the factories
( three man management ).

During the period of the NEP, and especially after the defeat of the German
revolution in 1923, both of these factors were gradually eroded. Trotsky was
correct in seeing the "rightists" as representing the influence of the peasantry
on the core of the Bolshevik party. Lenin was busy denouncing Stalin for his
national chauvanism, etc.

By Lenin's death and Stalin's coming to power in 1924, the revolution had clearly
degenerated, or whatever you might want to call it. But I would still argue that
it had some remnants of the workers state right up until 1928.

First, the debate in the Bolshevik party was a debate between revolutionaries,
however much influenced by the peasantry ( Zinoviev, Kamenev ) or the Bureaucracy
( Stalinists ) they may have been. Someone somewhere ( I can't remember offhand
who + where ) makes the point that later Stalin liquidated all three factions
in the Bolshevik party from this time, including his own, precisely because they
represented the living revolutionary tradition.

Second, there were still some remnants of workers control in the factories. The
economy was not completely subordinated to the needs of the rapid accumulation
of capital, as it was after 1928. The political reflection of this was that the
opposition could operate quite successfully - by 1927/8, Trotsky had about 10,000
supporters, who were increasingly active in a wave of strikes.

You can argue how to describe each stage, at which point each stage merges into
the next, and precisely when the possibility of reform became closed off.
But I don't think it is possible to ignore the qualitative change in 1928,
whatever your description of the USSR. [ I would strongly recommend the book
"The Birth of Stalinism" by someone called Riemman ( + or - some m's and n's ) ].

Opposition was smashed, either killed or put into the ancestor of the Gulag. War
was declared on the peasantry. Capital was accumulated at a phenomenal rate,
and to do this there was complete dictatorship in the factories.
In Stalin's words, they attempted to catch up and overtake the west - only
the difference was he did in 10 years what it took the English ruling class
hundreds of years to achieve. This was what Marx called the "primitive
accumulation of capital". Hence the brutality, both to the workers and peasants,
and to those people who had any link whatever with the pre 1917 Bolshevik tradition.

[ Phew ! A description of the degeneration of the Russian revolution in less than a
1000 words !]


Adam Rose


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