The Place of the Restoration of Capitalism in the Historic Process

Victor Trushkov, Doctor of Philosophy,
member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the
Russian Federation

(International Correspondence, no.2, 2001)

Despite the dramatic events of the 1980s and 1990s, when socialism had to fold up its banners over an immense area stretching from the Elbe to the Pacific Ocean and from Kouchka to the icy seas of the north, the present historical epoch preserves traits characteristic of the passage from capitalism to socialism on a global scale (...).

In his "Critique of the Gotha Programme" Marx wrote: Between capitalism and communism there is a period of revolutionary transformation of the first into the second. This is the period of political transition". (...) In the course of the second half of the 20th century a number of Marxist philosophers categorically stated that "the scientific category of `the transition period' is only applicable, in Marx and Lenin's conception to the analysis of the revolutionary process of liquidating capitalism and building socialism" (...) All transition periods have this in common, that they are based on a pluralist economy, where the presence of a dominant system is still, to a large extent, illusory.

The elaboration of the methodological bases of the transition period was the work of Lenin. In particular he devoted a series of writings to it in the period of April/May 1918, (...) the period just after the signing of the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty (...) These works allow one to distinguish at least two states within the transition period (...) using Lenin's image, the first is necessary to reach the "antechamber of socialism" and the second is the antechamber itself. In the course of the first stage, society accomplishes tasks that belong, objectively speaking, to the previous system which have been "inherited". (...) The tasks of the second stage are directly linked with the building of socialism on the basis of a level of civilisation, of productive forces capable of ensuring the highest possible labour productivity and the satisfaction of the principal reasonable needs of the individual. (...)

I would like to draw attention to the fact that two other stages complicate still further the transition period: a) the social restoration of the previous regime and b) the elimination of that restoration. (...)

It must be recognised that, by excluding the category of restoration from the theoretical analysis of the transition period, Marxist philosophy, in the period 1930-80 greatly weakened its immunological capacity, and so our ability to prepare for and to resist it. Instead, we indulged in a sublimation of the successes achieved. Thus the completion of the tasks of the first stage of the transition period in the end of the 1930s was declared to be "the building of socialism" and, at the beginning of the 1960s, when we had barely completed the reconstruction of the national economy destroyed during the Great Patriotic War, we proclaimed the "total and final victory of socialism" and announced the "broad building of communism".

Perestroika undoubtedly contributed to the restoration but I'm not talking about so called "catastroika" (...). Perestroika, considered as a restructuring of economic, political, social cultural and administrative relations is an objective fact of the passing from one stage to another, as is revolution when passing from an obsolete to a progressive mode of production.

Reconstruction-perestroika was already necessary in the 30s, when the tasks leading up to the "antechamber of socialism" had been successfully completed. It is no accident that the theme of the perestroika of the administration dominated the debates of the 18th national conference of the CPSU in February 1941. Attempts to restructure Soviet society on a socialist basis were undertake several times in the 1950-70 period. I will not discuss here the successes and setbacks of each of them.

The restoration of capitalism in the USSR and Eastern Europe is due to a considerable extent, to the interest that it has for the forces of world imperialism. In his polemic with Kautsky, Lenin had warned "Even if the exploiters are wiped out in a single country, they remain nevertheless stronger than the exploited because their connections at international level are enormous. That some of the exploited belonging to the least educated strata are capable of following the exploiters has been demonstrated in all the revolutions, including the Commune". (...)

The mere fact of the survival of exploiters on world level does not, in itself, mean that socialism is condemned. External pressure would only become threatening when there exist forces inside the socialist system who have an interest in restoring capitalism. It is about these forces that we must consider.

I think that the picture of Soviet society as a practically classless one in the 80s, the idea that the two forms of socialist property -- state and cooperative -- were sufficient to define the productive relations in the USSR, is far from reality. A mixed economy existed in the country at that time.

First of all I would recall the short-lived debate that took place in 1984-5 about incomes that did not come from work. Whatever one's political appreciation of that debate, it certainly pinpointed the existence of a system of small-scale retail trade. In law, this was barely legal and economically it was falsified insofar as the producers used means of production that did not belong to them but to the state. But between the moonlighting bricklayers and taxidrivers and the sales of the product of smallholdings it meant that this retailing was relatively important.

As for the private wholesale trade, which existed in the form of a parallel economy, its economic power was even greater. These were rumours of its importance current in the 1980s ‑- some research workers stated that its turnover was comparable to that of the state.

The measures taken in the context of perestroika in the 1987-88 period ensured the legalisation of retail and wholesale trading. This allowed those active in the field to seek political means of protecting their interests.

Nor, I believe, was the form of property called state property a uniform economic system. To be sure it had socialist aspects (...) but it was not "uniformly" socialist, rather it was a symbiosis in which state capitalism was the second constituent. Nor must we regard this as a colossal defect of Soviet reality. Lenin had already, 80 years ago, on 29 April 1918, in a speech to the Russian Central Executive Committee outlining his programme, stated that "State capitalism, for us, would be a step forward"1 (...) This form of symbiosis of socialist and state capitalist systems inside state property is extremely important for analysing the driving forces behind the restoration of capitalism.

Although it is the workers as a whole that act as carriers of the socialist character of society, state property was, in practice, administered by the apparatus (what the "democrats" nicknamed the "nomenklatura of the state and party"). The fact of taking part in the socialist system made of this social stratum supporters of the Soviet regime whose principal characteristic was the fact that, in the work of the Soviets, legislative and executive functions coincided. But their belonging to the state capitalist sector required that they embody political interests of the apparatus in the separation and promotion of the executive branch of authority, in the broadening in the USSR of elements of bourgeois parliamentarianism. And when the Gorbachev-Yakovlev tandem started to introduce the bourgeois system, opening the horizon to semi-legal and illegal systems, an important part of the apparatus discovered it had competitors in those acting in the already existing forms of private property and expressed the will to preserve its privileged status (the privileges of power) by themselves appropriating state property. What happened must not be rejected, because when the restoration is over, the economy will remain pluralist for quite a long time and the role of state capitalism will be even more important.

Thus the possibility of capitalist restoration is determined by the transitional character of the period, by the preservation of a mixed economy in a society that was in the "antechamber of socialism". So long as the socialist system can be deprived of the "commanding heights" the transition period and the danger of restoration remain. Several factors make this possibility a reality. They are to be found, especially, in the social restoration.

Firstly, just after a revolution, there occurs a sort of "accelerated advance", the adoption of measures that rest on no solid economic basis. Let us remember the "Levellers" of the English Revolution and the Jacobins of the French Revolution. In the course of the Soviet Union's 70 years, one can also talk of a chain of "acceleration", whether the too high legal level of socialisation of the economy, the slogans about "broadening the building of communism" and of "developed socialism" or of Khrushchev's attack on the collective farmers' private plots of land.

Secondly, the experience of the preceding period always made itself felt, which led to a "traditionalism" even in innovative actions -- out of habit, in memory of earlier successes brought about by the use of certain social techniques. This "experiment" showed itself in the concentration of power in the hands of one man to reach the level of a personality cult (leaving aside other aspects and beginnings of this complex phenomenon) as well as in the use of war-time methods of mobilisation in peace time, etc.

Thirdly, the fits and starts of the economic system, the elements of crisis. In the USSR they showed themselves in a lowering of the rate of growth of social production at the start of the 80s, in the flagrant lack of balance between the amount of money and the amount of goods at the turn of the 1980s to 1990s, in the serious technological backwardness in relation to the scientific and technological revolution.

Fourthly, restoration is often preceded by war. The particularity of the restoration of capitalism is that the war was exceptionally long and hard, even if it was "cold". Moreover, the Soviet system was also greatly weakened by the participation of its troops in the armed conflict in Afghanistan.

However, all these factors were only the beginnings which made possible the restoration of capitalism. That transformation process became a reality through the action of a "subjective factor" that can be broken down as follows:

- the weakening of the "traditional" vanguard role of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in the country's life

- the decomposition of society into social strata, including within the CPSU itself, reaching a critical level for the Soviet regime

- the too self-confident indulgence of the sincere supporters of socialism, which allowed a global offensive against the existing political and economic system, against the traditional Soviet values, including attacks on V.I. Lenin.

- the degeneration of the "revolutionary" power which led to its political betrayal. (...)

In the restoration process it is the state that finds itself in a vanguard position. It does not act like a superstructure on an already established base but as a means of stimulating the regression which the wholesale trading system needs so as to become the base. We are thus faced with a unique situation: the functional relations between base and superstructure are reversed -- it is the political that determines the economic. Even Choubais has recognised that privatisation has, so far, been carried out for political rather than economic reasons. (...)



1- For example:

"Only the development of state capitalism, only the painstaking establishment of accounting and control, only the strictest organization and labour discipline, will lead us to socialism....

"I told every workers' delegation with which I had to deal when they came to me and complained that their factory was at a standstill: you would like your factory to be confiscated. Very well, we have blank forms for a decree ready, they can be signed in a minute ... But tell us: have you learnt how to take over production and have you calculated what you will produce? Do you know the connection between what you are producing and the Russian and international market? Whereupon it turns out that they have not learnt this yet;...

"The situation is best among those workers who are carrying out this state capitalism: among the tanners and in the textile and sugar industries, because they have a sober, proletarian knowledge of their industry and they want to preserve it and make it more powerful -- because in that lies the greatest socialism. They say: I can't cope with this just yet; I shall put in capitalists, giving them one-third of the posts, and I shall learn from them." (V. I. Lenin, Collected Works, Volume 27, page 297)

2- Anatoly Borisovich Choubais, "father of Russian privatization" from November 1991 on; today CEO of Russian joint stock company RAO UES (Unified Energy System of Russia).