Monday, December 29, 2008

Stalin and state capitalism

There are a few definitions of state capitalism out there, but this is mine. State capitalism as applied to socialist countries is more State corporate capitalism. This is because there's no market. The gist of it is that when you have a group of people at the top who decide the economic and social future for a country and then impose it from the top down in a way that resembles a management structure at a vertically and horizontally integrated company you get something that resembles how corporations do business. Corporations have been said by Noam Chomsky, in a bit of irony, to be proof that planned economies can work since large corporations don't respond to market fluctuations in the same way that small businesses do. So that's that. The lack of worker control in certain authoritarian socialist systems, where self management doesn't really exist and unions are seen as vehicles for the will of the Party adds to the resemblance between these systems and corporate capitalism. But there's one crucial difference that throws a monkey wrench in the works, one that distinguishes the whole thing from real capitalism and that's the point of the whole economic system.

During Stalinist times, and certainly before in the years after the Revolution, the point of the economic planning was the good of the whole society. Profit wasn't a goal pursued in order to enrich a particular class, although there's a later exception to that, but was pursued so that it could be pumped back into society. The working class acted as a dictatorship of the proletariat in official ideology, but they also shared in official ideology power with the peasant farmers. However, it's clear that economic planning on the part of the government and of the Party favored the working class in big cities, and medium sized ones while penalizing peasant farmers through appropriating more of their produce for the cities than would be fair under developed socialism. Among other things, this contributed to a widespread famine caused by forcing peasants onto collective farms at the same time as the higher demands were being made.

The demands on workers and peasants under Stalinism were as extreme as any ultra-authoritarian corporate capitalist set up, with terror used as a weapon against people who didn't perform to perfection. Stalin (supposedly) and Soviet officialdom saw conspiracies everywhere aimed at undermining the Soviet Union, often manifested as economic sabotage.

Socialism and the good of society was then established in Stalin's times through top down corporate management and enforced by extreme terror, including torture, prison, and execution, against people thought to be undermining that goal.
Which brings us to the idea of a New Class.

It's hard to really label Stalinism as having to do with capitalism, state, corporate, or otherwise because in order for there to be capitalism there needs to be one class exploiting the other for its own personal benefit. Some have suggested that the Soviet order of bureaucrats became such a class, having the controls of society at their hands and using them to enrich themselves. While this may have been true in later times, in the Stalin era these excesses on the part of the Party and of bureaucrats was severely kept down by the same threats of violence that were applied to the rest of society. Only after the terror lifted did it become possible for the New Class to assert itself, and after Khruschev and his reforms were stopped by careerists.

So State Capitalism? Sure, but a State Capitalism that didn't mature until the era was over.

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