Psychohistory, ‘Stalinism’, ‘Maoism,’ ‘State Capitalism’–3

Bernard D’Mello

To assert, without understanding Marx’s critique of political economy and of capital &capitalism, and with little comprehension of Maoist practice in China, that Mao’s and the Maoists’ goal in China was state capitalism, capitalism without capitalists, as Dr Jal does, is wrong. To insistin a similar manner that state capitalism was the goal of Stalin and Stalinism toois also incorrect. Neither was the Soviet Union during or after Stalin’s rule nor was China in the Maoist period capitalist in any classical sense of the term.

According to Marx’s critique of political economy and his critique of capital and capitalism, the economic foundation of capitalism has three determining characteristics: (i) ownership of the means of production by private capitalists; (ii) separation of the total capital in the system into competing or potentially competing units of capital; and (iii) production of most of the commodities (goods and services) by workers who, owning no means of production they can call their own, are driven to sell their labour power to the capitalists in order to make a livelihood and thereby subsist.

In the Soviet Union after 1936 and in China in the Maoist period after collectivisation (with the communes in place), the first two of these determining characteristics were by and large absent.Moreover, profits and rents were not paid out as personal incomes. Regarding (iii), the workers were propertyless wage earners, but with a huge difference from their counterparts under capitalism. There was full employment and a constitutional guarantee of the right to a job. The workers had job security, and access to housing, education, health, and other services, either free of costs or at nominal costs. The workers were thus not subjected to the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads (the capitalist labour market) as their counterparts under capitalism were.

Of course, the ruling strata had privileges denied to the workers and peasants and the distribution of real income was unequal. There was a one-party state, with the ruling party leadership exercising a monopoly of political power andexercising that power from control of the state and all its apparatuses, coercive and ideological. Increasingly, over time the top layer of the privileged and powerful ruling strata coalesced into a ruling class-in-the-process-of-becoming.

In China in the post-Mao period, this ruling classlatersteered a transition to capitalism in large parts of the economy, integrating the Chinese economy into, and making it a significant part of, the world capitalist system, even as it controlled the Chinese system successfully with the same old non-capitalist party-state.The Soviet Union and the Soviet system reached a dead end by the 1980s, and in the 1990s, its ruling class dismantled the party-state, tried to put in place a capitalist state, and privatised the state-owned economy by simply transforming a significant part of itself into a capitalist class. Mao, of course, anticipated what the “capitalist roaders” intended to do in China and fought against it as best as he could, but in the end unsuccessfully. [Much of what I have said in desperate brevity in the preceding few paragraphs is based on Paul Sweezy’s Post-Revolutionary Society (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1980), especially, chapter 10. The update is mine.]

Dr Jal’s state capitalism assertionis taken froma stream of such claims, initiated by Menshevik intellectuals, and then picked up by Raya Dunayevskaya, a former secretary of Leon Trotsky in Mexico during 1937–38. She broke with Trotsky and Trotskyism, apparently because she was cocksure that a new form of “state” capitalism had emerged in Russia, but Trotsky disagreed. She rightly emphasised worker alienation from the Soviet system but was wrong to conclude that this was driven by capitalist accumulation, with state and party officials constituting the capitalist class. The view that the Soviet Union was state capitalist spread in Anglo-American circles with the publication of Dunayevskaya’s book Marxism and Freedom (1958).

But, under capitalism, doesn’t the logic of capitalist accumulation unfold from the mutual interaction of competing units of capital (in corporate or non-corporate form) on the one hand, and the class struggle between capitalists and workers on the other, with exploitation by the units of capital and workers resistance to it, and the capitalists acting to maximise their profits and use them to expand their capitals?The capitalist state, of course, reacts to the unfolding of the laws of value and capital accumulation.All this was absent in the Soviet Union in the relevant period and in China after collectivisation in the Maoist period.

However, to be fair, one might say that individual state enterprises and the ministries which controlled their managements may have been driven to act as profit maximisers and capital accumulators. But wasn’t it the case that the extent to which they could do so was limited by the planning authority and the higher political bosses, who could fire the ministers and enterprise managers and appoint other persons to stick by the norms they had set, norms different from capitalist behaviour, namely, those stipulating state domination of the economy rather than the other way around as in capitalism? Frankly, in the post-revolutionary societies, the utilization of the surplus product was no longer governed by the laws of value and capital accumulation, but instead became the central focus of the political process and political struggles. Unlike capitalism, these societies did not have an autonomous economic foundation. [Paul M Sweezy, Post-Revolutionary Society, chapter 10]

But Dunayevskaya was not someone who could be convinced by such reason and logic, and empirical evidence. A Hegelian Marxist and practitioner of fierce, combative polemics – except Marx, no one else remained unscathed – Dunayevskaya set up a barricade to safeguard Hegel and Marx from the “post-Marx Marxists,” with not even Engels spared from her slating. Engels, we were told, was deficient in his understanding of Hegelian dialectics. Apparently, sheis one of Dr Jal’s intellectual idols, so I wonder what he means when he pulls me up for not reading “the history of revolutionary Marxism.” Anyway, I have presented an historical outline in “Marxism After Marx” in the Autumn Number 2021 of Frontier.

The application of “materialist dialectics” combined with constant empirical verification and practice based on such analysis as constant feedback are necessary in comprehending reality. Philosophizing to arrive at theoretical generalizationis of little worth. Moreover, mechanistically superimposing formulas from different historical contexts of the latter half of the nineteenth century (of Marx and Engels’ times) or the early twentieth century (of Lenin’s times)onto the later, fluid realities of the 1920s onwards, and doing this, and also superimposing orthodox formulas derived from different historical circumstances of the twentieth century, for analysing the new and even more unstablerealities of the twenty-firstcentury, is a violation of the materialist dialectical method of analysis of the world.


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Vol 54, No. 34, Feb 20 - 26, 2022