Feedback from Richard Wolff

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Tue Nov 16 12:35:35 MST 1999

Dear Friends,

        A brief reply to Louis Proyect - to the substance of his comments on my
article in Bad Subjects #45 (the special issue on Marx at Y2K), not to his
inappropriately overheated rhetoric. Proyect would have benefitted from -
and better served his readers by referring to - the detailed critique of
the literature of "state capitalism" published by Steve Resnick and myself
back in 1993 ("State Capitalism in the USSR? A High-Stakes Debate" in
RETHINKING MARXISM No 6, pp. 46-68). There we review that entire literature
to show its problems and omisions - precisely in relation to class
analysis. We also sketch the class analytical alternative to that
literature which was further developed by us in subsequent publications and
the book on the class history of the USSR that we will publish next year.
        Contrary to Proyect's claim, "state capitalism" is not one belief or
theory; it is actually a term used in a variety of ways by a variety of
writers and movements deploying a variety of definitions leading to
different conclusions. Resnick and I use it very differently from how
others have done so (which is why we wrote the article cited above). We
certainly criticized and rejected (explicitly) the usage of Tony Cliff to
which Proyect attaches us as if we were the same. Nor does our usage of
state capitalism have much to do with "commodity production" and the "world
market" as Proyect seems to believe. Our approach to state capitalism has
to do with its class organization of production - who does the surplus
labor, who appropriates and distributes it, how and to whom, and with what
social consequences - not with the organization of the distribution of the
products of labor (as commodities via markets or as non-commodities via
alternative mechanisms of distribution). Proyect seems unclear on this
distinction, although it is central to our work on the USSR as on the other
topics we have written about.
        While I cannot recognize myself - even stretching matters - in the label
"state capitalists" in Proyect's final sentence, I can say that our work
quite clearly outlines an alternative, in class terms, to the socialist
industrialization path followed by successive Soviet strategies (and indeed
of those elsewhere with similar models). Of course, we understand the
pressures on the USSR which eventuated in those strategies; no cheap 20-20
hindsight analysis is involved in our critique and presentation of an
alternative. The point is to respect and appreciate what the USSR achieved
and likewise to learn from its failures - on the model, say, of Marx's and
Lenin's assessments of the Paris Commune -  so that the next move forward
by those seeking to move beyond capitalism will work better.

Rick Wolff

Louis Proyect

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