state capitalist

State capitalism, in its classic meaning, is a private capitalist economy under state control. This term was often used to describe the controlled economies of the great powers in the First World War.[1] In more modern sense, state capitalism is a term used to describe a system where state is intervening in the markets to protect and advance interests of big business. This practice is in sharp contrast with the ideals of free market capitalism.[2]

This term is also used by some heterodox economists to describe a society wherein the productive forces are owned and run by a state in a capitalist way, even if such a state chooses to call itself socialist.[3] Within Marxist literature, state capitalism is usually defined in the latter sense: as a social system combining capitalism — the wage system of producing and appropriating surplus value — with ownership by a state apparatus. By that definition, a state capitalist country is a country where the government controls the economy and essentially acts like a single giant corporation. The term itself was in use within the socialist movement from the late nineteenth century onwards. Wilhelm Liebknecht in 1896 said: "Nobody has combatted State Socialism more than we German Socialists; nobody has shown more distinctively than I, that State Socialism is really State capitalism!" [4]

There are various theories and critiques of state capitalism, some of which have been around since the October Revolution. The common themes among them are to identify that the workers do not meaningfully control the means of production and that commodity relations and production for profit still occur within state capitalism.

Use by Classical Liberals and advocates of capitalism

Murray Rothbard, a laissez-faire capitalist thinker uses the term interchangeably with the term "state monopoly capitalism," and uses it to describe a partnership of government and big business where the state is intervening on behalf of large capitalists against the interests of consumers.[5][6] He distinguishes this from laissez-faire capitalism where big business is not protected from market forces. This usage dates from the 1960s, when Harry Elmer Barnes described the post-New Deal economy in the United States as "state capitalism." More recently, Andrei Illarionov, former economic advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin, resigned in December 2005, protesting Russia's "embracement of state capitalism."[7]

The term is not used by the classical liberals to describe the public ownership of the means of production. The economist Ludwig von Mises explains the reason: "The socialist movement takes great pains to circulate frequently new labels for its ideally constructed state. Each worn-out label is replaced by another which raises hopes of an ultimate solution of the insoluble basic problem of Socialism—until it becomes obvious that nothing has been changed but the name. The most recent slogan is "State Capitalism." It is not commonly realized that this covers nothing more than what used to be called Planned Economy and State Socialism, and that State Capitalism, Planned Economy, and State Socialism diverge only in non-essentials from the "classic" ideal of egalitarian Socialism."[8]

Use by Trotskyists

Leon Trotsky said the term state capitalism "originally arose to designate the phenomena which arise when a bourgeois state takes direct charge of the means of transport or of industrial enterprises" and is therefore a "partial negation" of capitalism [9]. However, Trotsky rejected that description of the USSR claiming instead that it was a degenerated workers' state. After World War II, most in the Trotskyist movement accepted an analysis of the Soviet bloc countries as being deformed workers' states. However, alternative currents within the Trotskyist tradition have developed the theory of state capitalism as a New Class theory to explain of what they regard as the essentially non-socialist nature of the USSR, Cuba, China, and other self-proclaimed socialist states.

The discussion goes back to internal debates in the Left Opposition in the late 1920s. One influential formulation advocating the theory of state capitalism has been that of Tony Cliff, associated with the International Socialist Tendency and the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP). Another is that of the Johnson-Forest Tendency of CLR James and Raya Dunayevskaya. A relatively recent text by Stephen A. Resnick and Richard D. Wolff, Class Theory and History, explores what they call state capitalism in the former Soviet Union, continuing a theme that has been debated within Trotskyist theory for most of the past century. .

Compare with other left-wing theories regarding Soviet-style societies: deformed workers' states, degenerated workers' states, new class, state socialism, bureaucratic collectivism and coordinatorism.

Use by Maoists and ‘Anti-Revisionists’

From 1956 to the early 1980s, the Communist Party of China and their Maoist or ‘anti-revisionist’ adherents around the world often described the Soviet Union as state-capitalist, essentially using the accepted Marxist definition, albeit on a different basis and in reference to a different span of time from either the Trotskyists or the left-communists. Specifically, the Maoists and their descendants use the term state capitalism as part of their description of the style and politics of Khrushchev and his successors, as well as to similar leaders and policies in other self-styled ‘socialist’ states. This was involved in the ideological break of the Sino-Soviet Split.

After Mao's death, amidst the supporters of the Cultural Revolution and the exploits of the 'Gang of Four', most extended the state capitalist formulation to China itself, and ceased to support the Communist Party of China, which likewise distanced itself from these former fraternal groups.

Most current communist groups descended from the Maoist ideological tradition still hold to the description of both China and the Soviet Union as being ‘state-capitalist’ from a certain point in their history onwards — most commonly, the Soviet Union from 1956 to its collapse in 1991, and China from 1976 to the present day. Maoists and ‘anti-revisionists’ also sometimes employ the term ‘Social-imperialism’ to describe socialist states that they consider to actually be capitalist in essence — their phrase, "socialist in words, imperialist in deeds" denotes this.

Use by Left-communists and Council communists

The earliest critique of the USSR as state-capitalist was formulated by various groups adhering to Left communism. One major tendency of the 1918 communist left criticised the re-employment of authoritarian capitalist relations and methods within production.

As Ossinsky in particular argued, one-man management and the other impositions of capitalist discipline would stifle the active participation of workers in the organisation of production; Taylorism turned workers into the appendages of machines, and piece-wages imposed individualist rather than collective rewards in production so installing petty bourgeois values into workers. In sum these measures were seen as the re-transformation of proletarians within production from collective subject back into the atomised objects of capital. The working class, it was argued, had to consciously participate in economic as well as political administration. This tendency within the 1918 Left Communists emphasized that the problem with capitalist production was that it turned workers into objects. Its transcendence lay in the workers' conscious creativity and participation, which is reminiscent of Marx's critique of alienation.

Modern left communists share with Trotskyists the fundamental definition of state capitalism as a social system combining capitalism with state ownership, but they disagree on some levels. The left communist group Aufheben for example have three primary disagreements with Cliff's theory:
  1. Cliff's attempt to make the point of counter-revolution and the introduction of state capitalism coincide with Stalin's first five year plan (and Trotsky's exile);
  2. his denial that the law of value operated in the classic sense within the USSR; and
  3. his insistence that state capitalism was the highest stage of capitalism which implied according to Left communists ( despite Cliff's denial) that the USSR was more advanced than Western capitalism.

State capitalism in Western countries

An alternate definition is that state capitalism is a close relationship between the government and private capitalism, such as one in which the private capitalists produce for a guaranteed market. An example of this would be the military-industrial complex where autonomous entrepreneurial firms produce for government contracts and are not subject to the discipline of competitive markets. Many see this as part of a continuum characterizing the modern world economy with 'normal' capitalism at one extreme and complete state capitalism like that of the former USSR at the other. This continuum has narrowed somewhat since the 1980s with the collapse of the USSR and its satellites and with large-scale privatization in Eastern Europe and most of the third world.

Both the first definition (the one used by Trotskyists) and this fourth one flow from discussion among Marxists at the beginning of the twentieth century, most notably Nikolai Bukharin who, in his book Imperialism and the world economy thought that advanced, 'imperialist' countries exhibited the latter definition and considered (and rejected) the possibility that they could arrive at the former.

Notes

1. ^ Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Political Thought. (1991). Ed. David Miller, Janet Coleman, William Conolly and Alan Ryan. Blackwell. 
2. ^ Allan G. Johnson. The Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology. (2000). Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0631216812 p.306
3. ^ Binns, Peter (1986). State Capitalism (HTML) (English). Retrieved on 2007-05-31.
4. ^ Liebknecht, Wilhelm (1896). Our Recent Congress (HTML) (English). Retrieved on 2007-05-31.
5. ^ Rothbard, Murray (1973), "A Future of Peace and Capitalism", in James H. Weaver, Modern Political Economy, Boston: Allyn and Bacon
6. ^ Rothbard, Murray (2000), "Left and right: the prospects for liberty", Egalitarianism as a revolt against nature and other essays, Auburn, Ala.: Ludwig von Mises Institute
7. ^ Andrei, Illarionov. "When the state means business" (HTML), International Herald and Tribune, 2006-01-25. Retrieved on 2007-05-31. (English) 
8. ^ Von Mises, Ludwig (1979). (in English). LibertyClassics. ISBN 0913966630. Retrieved on 2007-05-31. 
9. ^ Trotsky, Leon (2004). The revolution betrayed (in English). Newton Abbot : David & Charles. ISBN 0486433986. Retrieved on 2007-05-31. 

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