[Marxism] On Tony Cliff and British SWP

jgreen at communistvoice.org jgreen at communistvoice.org
Fri Dec 28 10:52:09 MST 2018

One of the things that Tony Cliff is widely known for is his book "State Capitalism 
in Russia". Indeed, on this mailing list, one may get brushed aside as a suposed 
follower of Cliff for holding that the Stalinist economy was state-capitalist.

But in fact, despite Cliff's denunciation of the Stalinist regime, his view of the  
internal nature of the Stalinist economy was closer than most Trotskyists care to 
admit  to the "orthodox Trotskyism" that regarded that there only needed to be  a 
"political revolution" that changed the leadership of the Soviet Union, not a "social 
revolution", because the Stalinist system was supposedly basically socialist 
economically. While Cliff said that the "Soviet bureaucracy" formed an exploiting  
class, nevertheless, for him it was the relationship between the Soviet Union and 
the outside capitalist world that brought the capitalist law of value into the Soviet 
Union. In his words, "if one examines the relations within the Russian economy, 
abstracting them from their relations with the world economy, one is bound to 
conclude that the source of the law of value, as the motor and regulator of 
production, is not to be found in it. In essence, the laws prevailing in the relations 
between the enterprises and between the labourers and the employer-state would 
be no different if Russia were one big factory managed directly from one centre, 
and if all the labourers received the goods they consumed directly, in kind." 
("State capitalism in Russia," Ch. 7, Subsection, "The Marxian law of value and 
the Russian economy viewed in isolation from world capitalism")

This is a major flaw that makes a mockery of his declaration that the Stalinist 
system was state-capitalist. Among Trotskyists, it was Walter Daum, of the 
League for the Revolutionary Party, who sought in his book "The Life and Death 
of Stalinism" to deal with the capitalist nature of the internal organization of the 
Stalinist economy, which he denounced as "statified capitalism". So in regard to 
the internal Soviet economy under Stalin,  he went beyond Cliff and pointed out 
things that Cliff couldn't deal with. But at the same time, he wanted to denigrate 
any difference between his views and those of Trotsky's, and he declared that 
"We agree with Trotsky's outlook up to 1939" ("The Life and Death of Stalinism", 
p. 9). He sought to demolish Cliff and Mandel (p. 24), and closed his eyes to the 
fallacies of Trotsky. The result is that his book is full of a series of crying 
contradictions. What he says on one page about the Soviet economy is 
contradicted on another page. So one step forward, and a dozen steps every 
which way.

So up to the present, not a single trend of Trotskyism has ever succeeded in 
having a coherent theory of revisionist state-capitalism. I discussed Cliff's theory 
of state capitalism in passing in my article "On Walter Daum's `The Life and 
Death of Stalinism': Competition among Soviet enterprises and ministries, and the 
collapse of the Soviet Union" (http://www.communistvoice.org/19cDaum.html).

Subheads of the article:
The internal rot in the old Soviet economy
Theories of the nature of the Soviet Union
Trotskyist views
The competition concealed behind Soviet planning--it's important, Daum says
No, Daum says, it isn't important
Competition and state capitalism
Daum's contradictions
The economy of a workers' state
Platonic economics
The life and death of Trotskyism
Trotsky's denial of the possibility of Soviet state capitalism
The state sector as a supposedly proletarian form
The Soviet bureaucracy was supposedly not a new bourgeoisie
The Soviet Union in the 1930s: workers' state or state-capitalist regime? 

 An excerpt follows:

The Trotskyists have a reputation as being among the foremost critics of 
Stalinism, but it turns out that their analysis is often quite similar to that of the 
Stalinists. Their views of the Soviet economies fall into one of the following three 

*    Most Trotskyist groups believe that the Soviet-bloc economies were 
"degenerated" or "deformed workers' states", depending on the country. They 
believe that these countries were essentially socialist or had a "post-capitalist" 
economic base, consisting of the state sector, although the government, being 
Stalinist, was oppressive. Thus they hold essentially to the view characterized 
above as that the Soviet Union was repugnant socialism, although they express it 
with their own terminology. This view leads them to defend some or all of the 
existing state-capitalist regimes, even when they seem to denounce these 
regimes in extreme language. Under the guise that "military support" is separate 
from "political support", they may defend the military adventures and aggressions 
of these regimes as anti-imperialist acts. Basically, they hold that if only the 
system was led by Trotskyists rather than Stalinists, it would show its socialist 
potential. They are only fighting with the Stalinists over who will lead the system, 
not over its fundamental essence. They express this in their formula that there 
was no need for a "social revolution" in these countries, only a "political 

*    The British Socialist Workers Party and other Trotskyists grouped 
internationally around the "International Socialists" follow the analysis of Tony 
Cliff. They hold that the Soviet Union was state-capitalist, and not a workers' 
regime, whether deformed or degenerated. But their view of how the Soviet 
economy operated is remarkably close to that of the other Trotskyists. They hold 
that the Soviet state-sector, despite being run by and for a new exploiting class, 
ran without internal contradictions, without conflicts between different enterprises 
and managements, like a single factory or a truly socialist economy. In their view, 
it was only the relations of the Soviet Union with the world market that introduced 
commodity production and other capitalist principles into the Soviet Union. Thus, 
despite the condemnation of the Soviet regime by Cliff and his followers, their 
description of the Soviet economy was very close to the main trends of 
Trotskyism who regarded the Soviet economy as basically socialist.

*  A very small section of Trotskyists claims that the Soviet economy followed the 
basic laws of capitalism due to its internal class nature. This is the stand of the 
League for the Revolutionary Party, and its theorist, Walter Daum, whose book 
'The Life and Death of Stalinism: A Resurrection of Marxist Theory' (1990) is the 
subject of this article. They not only hold that the Soviet economy was "statified 
capitalism", which is their way of saying state capitalism, but pay some attention 
to the anarchy and competition within Soviet state capitalism. They are one of the 
few groups on the left to do so, and so come closer to a correct assessment of 
the Soviet economy than any other Trotskyist trend. Thus, although they are 
dwarfed in size by the main Trotskyist trends, it will be useful to examine their 
views. As we shall see, their attempt to combine Trotskyism with the recognition 
of "statified capitalism" ends up involving them in one contradiction after another; 
they are unable to combine their views into a coherent whole; and they are forced 
to deny a number of historical facts.

--Joseph Green

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