Contemporary State Capitalist and ‘New Class’ Analyses of the Soviet Social Formation

  • Paul Bellis


Considered in terms of its practical consequences, the most significant contemporary variant of the thesis that the regime in the U.S.S.R. constitutes a form of state capitalism is that propounded by the Chinese Communist Party. According to the C.C.P., the accession to power in the C.P.S.U. of Khrushchev and his political associates represented the restoration of capitalism, a process whose completion it regards as having been marked by the events of the Twentieth Congress of the Russian Party in 1956. The Chinese have not, however, elaborated any theoretical basis for this assertion. Thus, for example, in a special edition of Peking Review, commemorating the centenary of the birth of Lenin, it is simply stated that the liquidation of the dictatorship of the proletariat

… was mainly a product of the class struggle in the Soviet Union, the result of the usurpation of Party and governmental leadership by a handful of Party persons in power taking the capitalist road there, in other words, the result of the usurpation of the political power of the proletariat by the Soviet bourgeoisie.1


Social Formation State Capitalist State Apparatus State Enterprise Capitalist Relation 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    ‘Leninism or Social Imperialism?’, Peking Review, 24 April 1970, pp. 5–15. The C.C.P. has, since the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, used the designation ‘imperialism’ or ‘social-imperialism’ in connection with Soviet foreign policy. Their conception of imperialism does not, in this sense, differ substantially from the Kautskyite analysis against which Lenin polemicised in Imperialism, the Highest State of Capitalism: see, on this, Erich Farl, ‘Is the U.S.S.R. an Imperialist Country?’, International, vol. II, no. 3, (Summer 1974), pp. 23–6. Farl provides an effective critique of Tony Cliff’s account of Soviet ‘imperialism’ in the same article.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Paul Sweezy and Charles Bettelheim, On the Transition to Socialism, 1st edn (New York, 1971)Google Scholar
  3. Charles Bettelheim, Economic Calculation and Forms of Property (London, 1976); and the same author’s Les Luttes de classes en U.S.S.R.: première période, 1917–1923 (Paris, 1974.), published in English translation as Class Struggles in the U.S.S.R. First Period: 1917–1923 (Hassocks, 1977). On the last-mentioned, see Miliband (1975) and Lockett (1976), both of which are reviews of the original French edition of the work.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    The authors of a recent work devoted to a reappraisal of the basic Marxist conceptual categories evidently concur with the essentials of Bettelheim’s later position on this question, arguing that the suppression of exchange relations and the commodity form is directly consequent upon ‘increasing control by the communal agency over production and distribution’. (Antony Cutler, Barry Hindess, Paul Hirst, and Athar Hussain, Marx’s Capital and Capitalism Today (London, 1977) p. 327.) There can be no doubt that the extension of such control would, in the U.S.S.R. and elsewhere, facilitate the institution of directly social distribution for some categories of product, with the range and number of these categories increasing in conjunction with the expansion of productive capacity. It should nevertheless be apparent that whatever the extent of communal control, and however democratically it might be effected, the necessity for the retention of commodity-money relations in the distribution of the products of those sectors of the economy whose total output remains insufficient to meet the social need cannot thereby be obviated. It would seem that Cutler, Hindess, et al. are advocating what is, in effect, War Communism ‘with a human face’.Google Scholar
  5. 7.
    See, e.g. Sweezy’s own two-part review of Les Luttes de classes en U.R.S.S., ‘The Nature of Soviet Society’, Monthly Review, vol. XXVI, no. 6 (November 1974), pp. 1–16 and vol. XXVI, no. 8 (January 1975), pp. 1–15. See also Martin Nicolaus, The Restoration of Capitalism in the U.S.S.R. (Chicago, 1975).Google Scholar
  6. 8.
    See, e.g. Bettelheim (1975), passim; and Leo Huberman and Paul Sweezy, ‘Lessons of the Soviet Experience’, in Leo Huberman, Paul Sweezy, et al., Fifty Years of Soviet Power (New York, 1967), pp. 9–21.Google Scholar
  7. 10.
    Gilles Martinet, La Conquête des pouvoirs (Paris, 1968), p. 95, cited in TS, pp. 32–3. Bettelheim himself refers to the ‘instability’ and ‘decomposition’ of state property: see Bettelheim (1976), p. 93, and see below.Google Scholar
  8. 11.
    For an early discussion of this theme, see Oskar Lange and Fred M. Taylor, On the Economic Theory of Socialism (Minneapolis, 1948); see also the comments on this in Mandel (1968), pp. 632–7.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    There is, in fact, little which is perceptibly Marxist in Djilas’ account, and he has since, in any case, explicitly renounced any affinities he may have had with the science of historical materialism: see Milovan Djilas, The Unperfect Society: Beyond the New Class (London, 1969).Google Scholar
  10. 14.
    Paul Sweezy, ‘Towards a Programme of Studies on the Transition to Socialism’, in Paul Sweezy and Charles Bettelheim, On the Transition to Socialism, 2nd edn (New York, 1972), pp. 123–35. Sweezy has never developed this thesis, however, and seems indeed to have abandoned it in his most recent writings on the Soviet social formation. In a review of Les Luttes de classes en U.R.S.S. he merely suggests that any account of the formation and reproduction of the state bourgeoisie as a class must be located at the level of the family (which possibly reflects his adoption of Althusser’s problematic of ideological state apparatuses, in which the family and other institutions are seen as forming a part of the state apparatus):Google Scholar
  11. see Paul Sweezy, ‘The Nature of Soviet Society’, Monthly Review, vol. XXVI, no. 6(November 1974), pp. 1–16, and no. 8 (January 1975), pp. 1–15.Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    See e.g. Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism (Cleveland and New York, 1958, repr. 1962), pp. 305–26Google Scholar
  13. and William Kornhauser, The Politics of Mass Society (London, 1960, repr. 1970), passim.Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    See, in this context, Paul R. Gregory and Robert C. Stuart, Soviet Economic Structure and Performance (New York, 1974), pp. 373–97.Google Scholar
  15. 21.
    The provisions of the Enterprise Statute of September 1965 are outlined in Vladimir Andrle, Managerial Power in the Soviet Union (Farnborough, 1976), pp. 15–17. It is noteworthy that while some commentators have seen the lack of congruence between the juridical and the actual relationships of decision-making power within the system of state enterprises as being necessarily dysfunctional, decrying the tendency for the ostensibly superseded ‘command’ relations to reassert themselves over enterprise autonomy (see, e.g. Mark Harrison, ‘Soviet Planning and the Working Class’, Socialist Europe, no. 3 (1977), pp. 21–5), Andrle — emphasising the extent of managerial power (although he does not believe that the essentially directive character of Soviet planning was fundamentally altered by the 1965 reforms) — argues rather that the indistinction which this entails provides the flexibility which is required if planning is to be implemented at all.Google Scholar
  16. 23.
    See Raya Dunayevskaya, ‘State Capitalism and Marx’s Humanism’, News and Letters, vol.XI, no. 9 (1966), pp. 1 and 5–8.Google Scholar
  17. 28.
    The distinction between the ‘first in time’ and the ‘first in reality’ is of course an important one for Marxist analysis, and Mandel himself must be numbered among those who have an occasion conflated the two: see, on this, Lucio Colletti, Marxism and Hegel (London, 1973, repr. 1977), pp. 130–3.Google Scholar
  18. 29.
    See C. L. R. James, State Capitalism and World Revolution (Detroit, 1969), passim.Google Scholar
  19. 32.
    Ernest Mandel, The Leninist Theory of Organisation (London, 1971), p. 12.Google Scholar
  20. In the same context, see also Leon Trotsky, Stalinism and Bolshevism (London, 1974)Google Scholar
  21. Peter Sedgwick, Introduction to Victor Serge, Year One of the Russian Revolution (Harmondsworth, 1972), pp. 9–15 (repr. as Peter Sedgwick, ‘The crucial Year: Victor Serge on Class and Party’, International Socialism, no. 50 (January–March 1972), pp. 9–16)Google Scholar
  22. Chris Harman, ‘Party and Class’, in a collection of essays of the same title by Tony Cliff et al. (London), pp. 47–66; and Ferdinand Charlier, ‘The Roots of Bureaucracy and How to Fight It’, in Ernest Mandel, ed., Fifty Years of World Revolution (New York, 1968, repr. 1971), pp. 253–74.Google Scholar
  23. For an exposition of the opposing view, see Daniel and Gabriel Cohn-Bendit, Obsolete Communism: The Left-Wing Alternative, (Harmondsworth, 1969), pp. 199–245.Google Scholar
  24. The thesis that Stalinism originated in the Leninist concept of the vanguard party is also upheld by Djilas and Mattick. Liberal accounts along similar lines are numerous: see, e.g. Leonard Schapiro, The Origin of the Communist Autocracy (New York, 1965)Google Scholar
  25. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago, 1918–1956, vol. I (London, 1974); and Daniels (1960).Google Scholar
  26. 34.
    For an account of the history of the factory committees, see Paul Avrich, ‘The Bolshevik Revolution and Workers’ Control in Russian Industry’, Slavic Review, vol. XXII (1963), pp. 47–63CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. and see also Tony Cliff, Lenin, vol. II: All Power to the Soviets (London, 1976) pp. 226–45.Google Scholar
  28. 36.
    Anna M. Pankratova, ‘Les Comites d’usines en Russie a l’époque de la révolution’, Autogestion no. 4 (December 1967), cited in Peter Sedgwick, Introduction to Victor Serge, Year One of the Russian Revolution (Harmondsworth, 1972), p. 8Google Scholar
  29. 38.
    For an excellent account of the principles of Taylorism, see Harry Braverman, Labour and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century (New York, 1974), pp. 85–123.Google Scholar
  30. The way in which the methods of ‘scientific management’ and the piece-work system are applied in contemporary Hungary is vividly portrayed in Miklós Haraszti, A Worker in a Workers’ State (Harmondsworth, 1977).Google Scholar
  31. 43.
    See, e.g. Bettelheim (1976), pp. 86–8, and see also Harry Braverman, Labour and Monopoly Capital (New York, 1974), pp. 11–24. This line of reasoning is also apparent, albeit in a different context, in the work of Poulantzas: see Poulantzas (1975), pp. 225–30 and 235–41.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Paul Bellis 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • Paul Bellis

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations