Sunday, January 29, 2012

Theoretical tragi-comedy of capitalist "restoration" in the USSR

Capitalism in the USSR? An Opportunist Theory in Disarray

Bruce Occeña and Irwin Silber

I. Introduction

Every major line struggle in the communist movement has been bound up with the struggle over some fundamental theoretical proposition. Bourgeois ideologists, among whom we include those within the communist movement who take a pragmatic view of line struggle, have great difficulty comprehending the significance of such struggles which, at times, seem to be over fairly abstract points of doctrine.

Thus some have reduced the repudiation of Trotskyism to a power struggle between Trotsky and Stalin, in the course of which the protagonists seem to hurl theoretical arguments at each other simply to gain some tactical advantage. Of course, there is an element of truth to this perception since line struggle does not proceed as a clash of disembodied ideas but appears and is fought out between historically definite individuals and groupings. More to the point, however, in bourgeois society, where social life is organized on the basis of private property and individual gain, ideological struggles between bourgeois political figures are very much tied to the advance of their personal positions. Such bourgeois careerism has often infiltrated the ranks of the workers’ movement and expresses itself in the manipulation of ideas for narrow personal or organizational gain.

But the element of truth in the pragmatic world view should not reinforce cynicism about the central importance of theoretical debate within the communist movement. It should serve as a warning that the struggle for correct theory must proceed with the most rigorous use of the principles and methodology of dialectical and historical materialism.

Today, when we are faced with the fact that Marxism-Leninism must settle accounts with a particularly stubborn “left” deviation, it may be useful to review briefly the significance of the theoretical struggle against an earlier “left” deviation, Trotskyism.

The clash between Marxism-Leninism and Trotskyism focused on a fundamental theoretical proposition: should and could socialism be built in one country? The international proletariat, having secured a socialist beachhead in one part of the capitalist world, had to decide on the basis of a concrete examination of historical conditions whether it should make the securing of that beachhead and the construction of socialism in Russia its principal task for the next period. Stalin and the Comintern argued that such a course had been imposed on the working class by the actual historical conditions under which the first proletarian revolution had wrenched a major portion of the world out of the hands of the bourgeoisie. Trotsky and his followers held that the political course for the international working class should be based on the primacy of extending the Bolshevik Revolution in fairly rapid fashion to the other major capitalist centers, and that building socialism in one country represented a major departure from Marxism.

The theoretical question of socialism in one country became the nub of a major struggle which wracked the international movement, the reverberations of which continue to be felt today.

A theoretical controversy of similar proportions has been on the agenda of Marxist-Leninists for the past two decades. It revolves around the proposition that capitalism has been restored in the Soviet Union and, by implication, in those socialist countries most closely associated with it through economic and/or political ties.

By extension, this “modest proposal” has also called into question the Marxist understanding of the laws of historical development, postulating the possibility that socialism can revert to the inferior capitalist mode of production with relative ease and under somewhat mysterious circumstances. The question has cast a shadow of uncertainty over the nature of the present epoch, whether we are witnessing the transition from capitalism to socialism or instead the emergence of a new, more insidious form of capitalism with a socialist guise. The controversy around this question has brought substantial disorder and confusion to the ranks of the international communist movement.

For the past several years it has become increasingly clear that all attempts to rebuild a Marxist-Leninist trend internationally are inextricably bound up with the repudiation of this capitalist restoration thesis. This is especially clear politically since the thesis that the Soviet Union is a capitalist country provides the theoretical foundation for the general line of collaboration with U.S. imperialism held and practiced by the Communist Party of China (CPC), the leading center for the restoration theory.

The thesis itself grew out of the struggle against modern revisionism.[1] This helps to account both for its initial acceptance in the anti-revisionist movement and for its staying power. But it is hardly the first time that a major deviation from Marxism-Leninism has appeared in the context of a generally correct struggle against another deviation. In a striking historical parallel, Lenin noted that “Anarchism was not infrequently a sort of punishment for the opportunist sins of the working-class movement.” He added, again with telling relevance to more recent struggles, “The two montrosities were mutually complementary.” (“Left-Wing” Communism, An Infantile Disorder)

In the midst of the struggle against modern revisionism, coming especially at a moment when the struggle against imperialism was reaching a critical watershed in Southeast Asia, the CPC’s deviation went by relatively unnoticed in the ranks of the anti-revisionists. As a result, the position that the USSR had been transformed into a capitalist “social imperialist” country was viewed merely as the logical extension of the anti-revisionist critique and was not submitted to rigorous theoretical scrutiny. Consequently, it became a cardinal principle among the bulk of anti-revisionist forces in the international communist movement.

In retrospect we can see that the capitalist restoration thesis was one of the first conspicuous signals that the general line of the CPC was collapsing all-sidedly into opportunism.

In view of its serious political and theoretical implications, the ready acceptance of the restoration thesis by many Marxist-Leninists is quite astounding. Not a single reputable bourgeois scholar has seriously entertained the notion that the USSR has reverted to capitalism in any meaningful sense of the term. How could this line be taken so seriously, for so long, by a whole section of the international communist movement? The answer is inescapable and sobering. The phenomenon says much more about the relative political immaturity and theoretical underdevelopment of the revolutionary forces gathered around the CPC in the wake of the revisionist bombshell dropped at the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU in 1956 than it does about the theoretical strength or factual substance of the capitalist restoration line itself.

From the beginning, the capitalist restoration thesis had negative political consequences, the most graphic being the policy of “no united action with revisionists” which was employed by the CPC to prevent a coordination of political strategy and military assistance to Vietnam during the height of the war against U.S. imperialism. Still, a number of years elapsed before the CPC line matured into full-blown class collaboration with imperialism.

The theory’s fuller programmatic expression actually began to appear in 1972, particularly with Nixon’s visit to China, which laid the basis politically and ideologically for the present tacit anti-Soviet alliance between Washington and Beijing. This event coincided with a significant shift in the CPC’s evaluation of U.S.-Soviet relations. Before 1972 the principal charge directed by the CPC against the Soviet Union was that it was colluding with U.S. imperialism in an attempt to divide the world into two respective spheres of influence. But starting in 1972, the CPC began putting forward the line that the relationship between the U.S. and the USSR was characterized by both collusion and contention, and that contention was principal and permanent whereas collusion was secondary and temporary.

This line change coincided with China’s attempt to forge a closer working relationship with the U.S., indicating that the leadership of the CPC believed that underscoring the specter of the “Soviet menace” would provide the objective basis for that relationship. It is significant that this line change took place at the time the U.S. had begun to surrender its hopes of military victory in Indochina and was completing its military withdrawal so that the military threat once posed to China by the presence of half a million U.S. troops near its southern border was fading.

By 1974, the capitalist restoration thesis had reached its political pinnacle with the elaboration of the Theory of the Three Worlds and its explicit call for the peoples of the world–worker and bourgeois, colonized and colonial, oppressed and oppressor–to direct the main blow at the USSR. With the elaboration of the Theory of the Three Worlds, the international class struggle had been stood on its head. Friends and enemies were thoroughly confused. Socialism became equated with fascism and the headquarters of world imperialism was designated a legitimate ally in the struggle against “hegemonism.” The wolf and the lamb were to make common cause against the “social imperialist” tiger. The political implications of this theory were revealed in the starkest form in Angola, where China sided not only with U.S. imperialism but with the puppets of Portuguese colonialism and the racist regime of South Africa against a popularly based revolutionary force because it enjoyed the support of the Soviet Union. As a result, the anti-revisionist trend whose unity had always been extremely shaky (itself an indication that it included both Marxist-Leninists and several strains of opportunism) began to split apart.

With Angola and the increasingly apparent opportunism of the Theory of the Three Worlds, a Marxist-Leninist trend has begun to emerge from the anti-revisionist camp which, from the beginning, had been largely under the domination of a “left” opportunist line headquartered in Beijing. But the maturation of this trend is closely bound up with the thorough refutation and settling of accounts with the theoretical underpinning of the “left” opportunist line–the thesis that capitalism has been restored in the Soviet Union.

There are further reasons for our trend to conduct a rigorous critique of the capitalist restoration thesis.

First, we must note that Marxist-Leninists are not the first to oppose the capitalist restoration thesis. From the beginning, this thesis has been challenged by both revisionist and Trotskyist circles. Many elements of these earlier critiques are both cogent and useful. But since these critiques have been advanced in the service of generally opportunist lines, Marxist-Leninists have been understandably wary of making use of them. But our trend must appropriate the best of all the critical work done thus far in relation to this thesis so that this important theoretical work can be used in forging a revolutionary general line for the communist movement, the basis for re-establishing a genuine communist party in the U.S.

Second, despite the profound shattering of the fragile unity of the “left” opportunists–signified by the split between China and Albania as well as the defeat of the “Gang of Four” by the Deng Xiaoping group in China–the capitalist restoration thesis has not at all been abandoned. For those appalled by the class collaborationist line of the Theory of the Three Worlds, the Albanian Party of Labor (and groups such as the Revolutionary Communist Party [RCP] in the U.S.) offer the comfortable niche of being able to reject the Theory of the Three Worlds while maintaining the capitalist restoration thesis. On the other hand, for those appalled by the anarchist tendencies of the Cultural Revolution, there is the much more business-like pragmatism of Deng Xiaoping and the current CPC leadership, who seem to have rejected all of the voluntarism associated with Mao Zedong Thought except for the capitalist restoration thesis.

Most importantly, the still fragile Marxist-Leninist trend has no basis for complacency around this question. We must guard against the legacy of pragmatism which expresses itself in a tendency to merely break with the incorrect political line without thoroughly settling accounts with the theoretical assumptions involved. Such pragmatism would leave our trend poorly equipped to deal with theoretical questions in general or with re-emerging manifestations of some of the underpinnings of the capitalist restoration thesis. The struggle for a correct summation of the “Maoist” deviation will revolve, in large measure, around the theoretical and political basis on which the capitalist restoration thesis is rejected. This struggle speaks directly to the future direction and general orientation of the Marxist-Leninist trend.

Some forces in our trend reject the capitalist restoration thesis but have not broken with the legacy of anti-Sovietism which significantly predates the adoption of a revisionist general line by the CPSU. So we are witnessing a minor revival of “Bukharinism” as well as emergence of neo-Trotskyism, both of which use the prejudices associated with the capitalist restoration thesis while standing on the “high” ground of anti-Stalinism. The fairly conspicuous ultra-democratic and anti-Leninist prejudices within this trend are reinforced by (and liberally borrow from) the anarchist legacy of the capitalist restoration thesis.

It is particularly significant that in recent years the critique of the capitalist restoration thesis has been taken up and qualitatively advanced by anti-revisionist forces formerly of a “Maoist” orientation. In the U.S. this has included the work of Jonathan Aurthur (Socialism in the Soviet Union, Proletarian Publishers) and Albert Szymanski (Is The Red Flag Firing? Zed Press). The most recent and important contribution, in our opinion, is The Myth of Capitalism Reborn by Michael Goldfield and Melvin Rothenberg (Line of March Publications) which tackles some of the complex theoretical questions involved in the controversy from a firm foundation of Marxist political economy and methodology. Its particular strength is that it is written in a polemical style, successfully engaging the principal theoretical lines and constructs of the restorationists and appropriately highlighting the political significance of the debate for communists.

In addition to these individual efforts, the National Soviet Union Study Project, located within our trend, has brought together approximately two dozen people of relatively advanced theoretical capacity who have been examining the question of capitalist restoration and several related questions for almost two years. In the past year, the project has sponsored a series of public forums in which its conclusions concerning the critique of the capitalist restoration thesis have been presented to large numbers of revolutionary activists. It is now preparing to publish a series of Occasional Papers by members of the project concerning various questions flowing from its studies.

The present article, then, is an attempt to summarize the most advanced theoretical work on this question emanating from the anti-revisionist, anti-“left” opportunist trend. In addition, the concluding section of this article will put forward a beginning critique of a theory the authors deem to be an unsatisfactory alternative to the capitalist restoration thesis, a theory most forcefully advanced by Goldfield and Rothenberg, that what has popularly been called “socialism” ever since The Bolshevik Revolution is more properly described as a “transition period” between capitalism and socialism. In the course of this critique, the authors also advance some initial thoughts concerning a theory of socialism.

II. The Theory of Capitalist Restoration

The critical examination of any theory requires, first of all, a clear-cut statement of what that theory says. This is so obvious that it comes as something of a shock to realize that in the case of the capitalist restoration thesis this is easier said than done. Although the CPC has advanced the line of capitalist restoration in the USSR for more than 15 years, it has never produced a single serious and systematic elaboration of this theory nor has it taken on any kind of theoretical defense of it.

A. Restorationist Literature

Both as a theoretical proposition and as a statement of historical fact, the thesis of capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union is of such overriding significance that we would expect it to be presented and documented in a thorough and readily accessible fashion. How far this is from being the case can be demonstrated through a brief survey of the available literature.

The closest that the CPC has come to an actual theoretical statement of the thesis is the Ninth Comment previously mentioned. A number of scholars have concluded that this document was the only one of the polemics with the CPSU which Mao himself played an active role in drafting. Unfortunately it does not enhance Mao’s reputation either as a Marxist theoretician or as an accurate documentor of social reality. As a polemic against the political line of Khrushchev, the Comment clearly scores some effective points; but as a theoretical exposition of capitalist restoration it fails. Nowhere in it does Mao attempt to use any of the fundamental categories of Marxist political economy which characterize capitalism. As for documentation, the Comment does not use any objective criteria other than the revisionist line of the CPSU to demonstrate that the capitalist mode of production has now come to characterize the Soviet economy.

The self-serving quality of this theoretical work is demonstrated further by the fact that it points to Yugoslavia as the prime example of capitalist restoration. Since this judgment has been dramatically reversed by the CPC in recent years without the slightest indication of any change in the Yugoslav economic system, the tactical and narrow political objectives of the thesis have become more transparent than ever before.

The only other literary effort by the CPC to document the capitalist restoration thesis is a pamphlet published by the Foreign Languages Press in Beijing in 1968 called How The Soviet Revisionists Carry Out All-Round Restoration of Capitalism in the USSR. At first glance, this would appear to be the Rosetta Stone of restorationist theory, the place where we could expect all the mysteries of the thesis to be disclosed. Unfortunately the term “theoretical work” could be applied to this pamphlet only with a thoroughly unwarranted excess of generosity. In fact, it is nothing but a collection of brief articles from the Chinese press supposedly documenting instances of corruption and ideological distortions in Soviet life–most of which are drawn from accounts in the Soviet press itself where they were reported in the context of the struggle against anti-socialist behavior. Insofar as this pamphlet makes certain assertions of “fact,” these have been thoroughly refuted by a host of scholars, both bourgeois and Marxist.

To get a feel for the quality of this pamphlet, consider one typical item. In a section “documenting” that “the dregs of society–ghosts and monsters–have been drawn into the (Soviet) party,” the pamphlet reports as follows: “The director of a state farm in Kazakhstan, Avbaklov, was a drunkard and humbug who led a dissipated life. The Party organization of the farm nevertheless dragged him into the Party. But before it had time to issue him a membership card he was guilty of further misconduct.”

The above constitutes the full extent of the documented report on this incident which, we are supposed to conclude, demonstrates a pattern of degeneration of the CPSU’s ranks. In terms of evidence for the capitalist restoration thesis–or for almost anything else–this Comment raises more questions about the CPC than it does about the CPSU. For one thing, the report, such as it is, is obviously abstracted from a criticism by the Soviet party itself of bad practices in recruitment. The point is that the pamphlet is filled with exactly this type of political gossip in its effort to demonstrate capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union; and this dubious scholarship is one of the most thorough attempts made by the CPC to document its thesis.

Further evidence of the quality of the theoretical work is provided by an article in the journal Modern China (Vol. 5, No. 1) by a pro-Mao U.S. scholar, Joseph W. Esherick. The article is entitled On The “Restoration of Capitalism”: Mao and Marxist Theory. One turns to this article with expectations of at last being able to discover that hitherto elusive body of theoretical work in which the capitalist restoration thesis will be advanced in all its glory. Instead we are told that Marx never explicitly said that capitalist restoration was impossible, that Lenin held that it was possible, that the position of “the Trotskyite Left Opposition .... (was) remarkably similar to the analysis of Mao” and that “the most striking parallels to Mao are found in Bukharin’s warnings of the dangers of a new ruling class emerging in Soviet society.”

Beyond that, Esherick admits that the Ninth Comment “is unquestionably the fullest statement of the Chinese position on the restoration of capitalism” and that at best the rest of the theory can only be pieced together by a close examination of Mao’s writings during the period.

The bulk of the remaining CPC work on capitalist restoration in the USSR is contained in the following: the polemical commentary, Is Yugoslavia A Socialist Country? which is the Third Comment on the Open Letter of the CPSU; a modest pamphlet called Leninism or Social-Imperialism published in 1970 on the centenary of Lenin’s birth; and scattered articles in Beijing Review, many of which have been anthologized in two compendiums published by a “Maoist” bookstore in the U.S., Social Imperialism and Social Imperialism: The Soviet Union Today (Yenan Books).

The Albanian Party of Labor (PLA) does only slightly better. Its theoretical work is contained largely in a number of articles which appear in the magazine Albania Today. The most useful summary, in the opinion of Goldfield and Rothenberg, is to be found in Issue No. 4 of Albania Today published in 1975.

Oddly enough, the most elaborate expositions of the theory have been produced in the west. (Perhaps this is not so odd. There has always been a ready market in the U.S. and Western Europe for any form of anti-Sovietism, especially with a “left” cover). It will probably surprise many to learn that the shoddy work by Martin Nicolaus, The Restoration of Capitalism in the USSR (Liberator Books, 1975, since withdrawn from circulation) and Red Papers 7 published by the RCP constitute two of the most thorough presentations of the theory in print. Even the leading French “Maoist” theoretician, Charles Bettelheim, has not produced a unified exposition, of the thesis. His theory has had to be reconstructed from the various bits and pieces to be found in a wide array of writings.[2]

B. Two Distinct Theories

The theoretical work supporting the capitalist restoration thesis can at best be described as sparse. For all its leanness, however, the thesis is extremely ecclectic and internally contradictory. It quickly becomes evident in attempts to reconstruct the thesis that there are actually two logically distinct theories of capitalist restoration in the USSR, and proponents of the thesis skip back and forth between them. This confusion, ironically, helps explain the stubborn persistence of the thesis since its gross departures from Marxism-Leninism are obscured by its elusive nature. One of the major contributions made by Goldfield and Rothenberg to the debate is the logical reconstruction of the two distinct theories and the unraveling of the common foundations.

What is common to both theories is the following. First, that the basis for the class struggle exists throughout the entire period of socialism; and that bourgeois elements will gravitate toward and exist within the communist party. And second, that former Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev engineered a revisionist coup d’etat in the Soviet Union, the most visible expression of which was the twentieth congress of the C PSU in 1956, and that this was followed by a thorough-going purge of all the Marxist-Leninist cadre from the party.

On the surface these assumptions might not seem to be in contradiction to a Marxist-Leninist orientation even though they are somewhat imprecise. For example, the idea of class struggle under socialism is far from unreasonable since socialism is a transitional society (between capitalism and communism) which will inevitably be characterized by class contradictions and struggles, both in a material and an ideological sense. Additionally, the rise of Khrushchev certainly marked the conspicuous and qualitative consolidation of a revisionist line within the CPSU. However, the subsequent gross deviations from Marxism by the restorationists and the glaring idealist and anarchist distortions which marked the Cultural Revolution in China require us to scrutinize these assumptions in a much more critical way.

C. Class Struggle Under Socialism

To begin with, the assertion that class struggle continues under socialism must be carefully qualified. In the early substages, right after the seizure of power, the continuing class contradictions can have a substantial material basis in the actual property relations that exist. Since the proletariat must wrest bourgeois property away from the capitalists “by degrees,” and there is really no other way in which this can be done, then for a period of time exploitive class relations may continue to exist in different branches of the economy. At the same time, widespread small-scale production, especially in rural areas, will persist. Under these conditions, the class struggle will of course go on.

But at this stage of the class struggle, the edge has shifted to the proletariat which, holding state power, can use that power to complete, step by step, the expropriation of the capitalists, institute land reform and gradual collectivization of agriculture, and increase the socialization and rationalization of various spheres of production through the institution of economic planning and the elimination of the market, etc. Meanwhile, the proletarian legal system prevents the transfer of capital through inheritance and robs accumulated wealth of its capacity to act as capital.

In this sense, Stalin’s statement in the 1930s that exploitive classes in the USSR had been qualitatively broken up (and more recently a similar statement by the Deng/Hua leadership concerning China) cannot be dismissed out of hand as having absolutely no basis materially and theoretically as the “Maoists” have tended to assert. On the other hand, class struggle has certainly not disappeared altogether, although it will take new forms. So long as imperialism exists as a contending world system anu scarcity and inequality still characterize socialist societies, there is a basis for the emergence of bourgeois lines, practices and ideology. However, increasingly the class struggle expresses itself as contention in this realm. Locating more precisely the forms of class struggle under socialism in this fashion in no way minimizes its significance in terms of serving either to accelerate or fetter the socialist revolution world-wide and in the particular country. However, the existence of such class struggle does not necessarily imply or necessitate the material existence of exploitive class relations within that particular socialist society.

But this is not the way in which the capitalist restoration thesis deals with this question. With typical idealist methodology, restorationists argue that if class struggle exists under socialism then there must be an exploiting class actually operating within the socialist system. From here it is but a short step to the classical anarchist view that the “holders of power” actually constitute this exploiting class–a view which is then “verified” by pointing to instances in which these holders of power are able to obtain for their personal use a higher proportion of the social product than do most workers. (Whether or not such practices are correct or justifiable under socialism is irrelevant for the moment– although by no means do we concede to anarchist prejudice and take it for granted that the existence of such seeming inequities is automatically and always contrary to the interests of the working class as a whole. The point is that even if true and unjustifiable, such practices can hardly be said to constitute in Marxist terms the principal basis for proving the existence of an exploiting class, let alone defining the economic system as one based on capitalist property relations.)

D. The “Revisionist Coup d’Etat”

The other common assumption of the restorationists – that Khrushchev engineered a coup d’etat which seized power on behalf of the bourgeoisie – is equally problematic. While the revisionist deterioration of the political and ideological line of the CPSU becomes qualitative and conspicuous with the rise of Khrushchev, all assertions of a massive purge of party ranks or deproletarianized class composition of the party are totally without foundation. There is no evidence whatsoever of any full-scale purge of party ranks in the CPSU from 1956 up to the present. The party shows signs of comparative stability and steady growth throughout this period. Nor is there any evidence of a massive change in the class composition of the party away from the proletariat; a larger proportion of workers are party members today than in 1956.

Of course, none of this proves that the line of the CPSU is necessarily a proletarian line. The point, however, is that a fundamental argument of the restorationists can in no way be substantiated. In fact, it is precisely this type of argumentation which has served to obscure the real contradictions in socialist society and the international communist movement which the emergence of revisionism represents. In this sense, the restorationists fulfill Lenin’s prescription for dogmatists – they are theoretically lazy – since by declaring the USSR capitalist they avoid the much more difficult task of analyzing the real contradictions which flow from the ideological deterioration of the communist party or the task of constructing socialism. For if a revisionist line equals capitalism, there is no need for a whole new body of theoretical work that begins to do for the socialist epoch what Marx, Engels and Lenin have done for the analysis of the capitalist epoch.

Starting with these two basic assumptions, the restoration thesis then goes galloping off in two different directions.

E. Theory No. One – The “Political Economy” Thesis

The “political economy” thesis appears to follow orthodox Marxist lines. It holds that capitalist relations of production have been restored in all major sectors of the economy, beginning in agriculture. The critical turning point was in 1965 with the Kosygin reforms marking full-scale restoration. As a result, economic planning has been abolished and capitalist profit has become the principal driving force in production. Various endemic capitalist contradictions have emerged such as cyclical crises and massive unemployment, with increasing social stratification and worsening conditions for the working class. In short, the USSR is depicted as functioning essentially like the U.S.

F. Theory No. Two – The “Superstructure” Thesis

The second argument is an a priori formulation, based on Mao’s statement: “The rise to power of revisionism means the rise to power of the bourgeoisie” (Leninism or Social Imperialism, p. 14). Consequently it holds 1956 as the decisive year with the emergence of the revisionist line in the CPSU and its further consolidation by the Twenty-First Congress. This theory stresses the key importance of the attitudes of the leadership toward remnants of capitalism. Consequently, degeneration into capitalism is synonymous with the degeneration of the party line into revisionism. Once the line alters, capitalism is restored rapidly. In short, this argument takes the liberty of redefining capitalism, conveniently incorporating into this “capitalism of a new type” socialist planning and all the numerous political and material advantages enjoyed by the working class in the USSR. Ideologically this argument is more insidious because it plays into the prevalent anticommunist legacy in the West. As in 1984, the USSR is depicted as a materially advanced society hiding a fascist-like totalitarian system.

G. Merging of the Theories Politically

These two distinct lines of argument represent the logical separation of the capitalist restoration thesis. However, in the world of politics, the restorationists nimbly skip from one theory to the other, advancing a “fact” here or a thesis there in order to buttress their argument on behalf of capitalist restoration in the USSR. Chinese propaganda has, for years, argued both theses – often in the same article – until Deng Xiaoping’s latest return to power finally brought even the semblance of theoretical work on this question to an end. A good example of the merging of the two theories is to be found in Red Papers Seven by the RCP. The single most ambitious attempt to argue the “political economy” thesis is the Nicolaus book. The Restoration of Capitalism in the USSR, while the ongoing work of Charles Bettelheim represents the most sophisticated and ambitious version of the “superstructure” thesis.

In recent years, the “political economy” thesis has increasingly lost favor among restorationists as it keeps bumping up against the stubborn material reality of the Soviet economy and society, which simply refuses to behave in accordance with the prescription these theorists have laid out for it. Consequently, the “superstructure” thesis has become the fallback argument for the most recalcitrant restorationists since it allows for the incorporation of socialist relations of production into “capitalism of a new type,” now appearing for the first time in the world by edict of these theoreticians.

In the following pages we will examine these two theories in greater detail. Concerning the “political economy” thesis, we will take up both the empirical evidence offered in its behalf and the theoretical categories it employs. Drawing upon the body of work already available, we will demonstrate that the theory does not stand up either empirically or theoretically. Concerning the “superstructure” thesis, we will examine its underlying theoretical assumptions and, drawing from the work done by a wide array of forces, demonstrate that its categories represent a substantial departure from Marxist political economy and that it represents not the materialist world outlook of Marxism-Leninism but the idealist world outlook of petit bourgeois revolutionism.

III. The “Political Economy” Thesis

If the capitalist restoration thesis can be attributed to any one figure, the most likely candidate is Mao Zedong. Evidence is increasing that Mao developed the thesis not only in the midst of the deteriorating relations between China and the Soviet Union; perhaps more significantly, the thesis appears to have been tactically developed as part of the ideological preparation for the Cultural Revolution in China. (By the same token, there is considerable evidence to indicate that Liu Shaoqi, who was the principal political target of the Cultural Revolution, never supported the capitalist restoration thesis although he seems to have been the principal author of most of the famous CPC critiques of Soviet revisionism up through 1963.)

The significance of this point is that it is doubtful if Mao himself ever had much to do with what we have designated the “political economy” thesis. Mao himself was not well-versed in Marxist political economy and his generally idealist views and voluntarist approach to economic questions is strongly suggestive of this weakness (i.e., both the Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution were Mao’s economics in practice). Where, then, did the “political economy” thesis come from?

The most logical explanation – one that is confirmed by some direct experiences in the U.S. communist movement – is that it represents an effort by a number of more orthodox Marxists in the “left” opportunist camp to try to find a way to prove Mao’s poorly thought-out formulations on capitalist restoration in a manner that would appear to be consistent with classical categories of Marxist political economy.

The difficulty which this thesis immediately encounters, however, is that the most conspicuous features of capitalism which Marx identified and which are readily observable – private ownership of the means of production, cyclical crises, structural unemployment, anarchy of production – do not appear to be present in the Soviet economy. Accordingly, the proponents of the “political economy” thesis have been forced to argue that in fact all of these features of capitalism are indeed present in the Soviet economy, but they appear in a disguised form. The socialist “appearance,” they hold, is used to mask the capitalist “content.”

Their argument runs somewhat along the following lines. Private ownership of the means of production characterizes the Soviet economy even though it cannot be demonstrated that there is legal ownership; the “ownership” consists in effective control over the means of production and is demonstrated by greater access to the social product. A definite capitalist class, defined by its effective control over the means of production, exists in the Soviet Union. Despite the apparent existence of a central plan for the Soviet economy, anarchy of production actually reigns; the plan, they hold, is nothing but the concoction of the enterprise managers who simply register what they have already determined will be their economic course over the next period of time. What this means is that the pursuit of private profit rather than social need is the principal motive force organizing the Soviet economy. Because of the anarchy of production, the classical boom-and-bust business cycle of capitalism characterizes the Soviet economy. The cause is the same as in the U.S., periodic crises of overproduction resulting in a decline in the gross national product and massive unemployment among Soviet workers. They assert that a permanent industrial reserve of the unemployed now exists in the Soviet Union. Soviet capitalism has led to the absolute emiseration of the Soviet working class with a measurable decline in living standards and a widening income gap between workers and “capitalists.” The bourgeoisie’s penetration of the socialist system in the Soviet Union took place first with the restoration of capitalist production relations in agriculture and was principally signalled by the abolition of the motorized tractor stations and the growth of the private plots. Capitalist restoration was completed in an all-sided way with the adoption of the 1965 Kosygin reforms. As a result, the Soviet Union has become a “social-imperialist” superpower where the absolute law of the export of capital is the underpinning of Soviet foreign policy and Soviet contention with the U.S.

Such, in brief, is the “political economy” thesis of capitalist restoration. What will be immediately apparent to anyone with a reasonable acquaintance with Soviet reality is the sheer absurdity of it all. On the phenomenal level, only the most die-hard anticommunists would have so little respect for the facts as to assert these propositions seriously. Most bourgeois Sovietologists would quickly dismiss this theory as having so little correspondence to Soviet reality on the empirical level as to call into question the honesty of any who advanced it.

In this connection, a recent appraisal of the Soviet economy by a fairly well-known and widely respected bourgeois scholar, Alex Nove, is in order. According to Nove (The Soviet Economy: Problems and Prospects, in New Left Review No. 119, Jan.-Feb. 1980), the Soviet economy is based on centralized planning, market forces are absent or severely restricted, profitability plays a subordinate role in decisionmaking, and there is a labor shortage, as opposed to unemployment and a reserve army of labor.

As Nove points out, there are problems in the Soviet economy: a declining growth rate in labor productivity, inefficiencies in the use of labor and investment resources, distribution bottlenecks, especially in consumer goods, and inadequate output and productivity in agriculture. However, to quote Nove: “The Soviet leadership has shown every sign of being determined to reject the ’market’ solution” to the economic problems of the Soviet Union. In other words, the Soviet Union is characterized by an absence of market forces, contrary to the claims of the restorationists. Nove concludes that despite the economic problems in the Soviet Union, “people have not become worse off,” there is no threat of economic collapse, the system is not in chaos, and the quality of planning and production are not declining. Thus according to Nove, the emphasis that critics of the Soviet Union place on chaos, waste and the production of poor quality goods is misleading–especially when compared to previous periods when the economy was far more wasteful and inefficient and less productive.

Given the stark contrast between the “political economy” thesis and the summation by even bourgeois scholars such as Nove, the question that presents itself is how such gross distortions about the USSR could have become a material force among a whole section of the international communist movement. What the “political economy” thesis reveals is not some new understanding of the Soviet Union but the abysmal ignorance of the bulk of those forces who made up the anti-revisionist trend which congealed around the CPC after the CPSU’s collapse into revisionism. It is clear that this trend is marked by a profound break in historical continuity. For the most part the “Maoist” parties, which splintered off from the older parties whose roots went back to the Third International, attracted mainly young revolutionary elements, leaving the majority of older cadres in the revisionist ranks. In some respects this was a strength. But it was also a profound weakness which was compounded by the inability of the “Maoist” parties to recognize that the break in continuity was hardly a cause for celebration.

One result of this break in continuity has been a conspicuous drop in the level of knowledge about the history and functioning of the USSR in which the Third International was schooled. Nowhere was the ignorance factor more stark than in the ranks of the “new communist movement” in the U.S. This problem was confounded tenfold by the relatively low theoretical level of the anti-revisionist trend which was weaned almost exclusively on the writings of Mao. Mao’s writings, especially in the area of political economy, are best summed up as a form of theoretical pablum when contrasted to the rigorous scientific tradition of Marxism. In addition, this trend was deeply infected by the anti-communist prejudices of U.S. society in general and the New Left in particular, so that there existed in the anti-revisionist movement a ready audience for the wildest slanders which could be concocted about the Soviet Union.

Taken together, these elements shape a whole generation of communists who are relatively gullible and susceptible to distorted facts and analysis about the USSR. Any serious work in our movement concerning the Soviet Union, therefore, cannot proceed on the basis of assumptions that could once have been made concerning the communist movement’s acquaintance with Soviet reality. Incorrect assertions about Soviet life and society which, in the past, communists might reasonably have been expected to dismiss as obvious nonsense, must now be more carefully and painstakingly refuted. In short, the capitalist restoration thesis must not only be theoretically critiqued, but also empirically refuted. In the process, the working knowledge of Marxist-Leninists concerning the main features and functioning of Soviet society must be raised substantially.

In the main, the critical work done on the capitalist restoration thesis by Aurthur, Szymanski, Goldfield and Rothenberg, and the Soviet Union Study Project provides an overwhelming empirical refutation of the thesis. In the pages that follow, we can only touch on a few of the main points and will cite these and other appropriate sources for fuller documentation.

The central proposition of the “political economy” thesis is that members of a new Soviet bourgeoisie privately own the means of production and organize the Soviet economy on the basis of the pursuit of private profit. Demonstrating this proposition is indispensable to any serious theory of capitalist restoration in the USSR. If capitalism has been restored there must be a capitalist class; the restorationists have invested considerable time and energy in search of it. In general, two candidates are proposed for this role.

The first candidate proposed is the group of managers and enterprise directors who supposedly maintain essentially private control over their enterprises in spite of disguised socialist legality (Nicolaus). They supposedly operate “their” plants on the basis of market considerations and derive personal profits from the success of these enterprises. But this proposition quickly falls apart once reality is examined. In fact, the actual authority of Soviet plant managers is comparable to that of plant foremen in the U. S. (Myth). They manage their enterprises under major restrictions from central planning agencies. They have no fundamental control over either the wage scale of the workers or the prices of the finished products. They can be readily removed from their positions by the political leadership of the party and government. To argue, as Nicolaus does, that these directors and managers constitute the new Soviet “ruling class” is nothing but a measure of the fertility of the human imagination.

The second proposed candidate for the Soviet bourgeoisie is the top level of party and state functionaries, a choice which is politically somewhat more plausible than the enterprise managers since they control the key positions in the party and state apparatus. But there are major problems with this choice as well. The biggest problem is that it implies a form of capitalism without competition, a question which we will take up later on when we deal with the concept of “state capitalism” as the restorationists use it. On a more immediate level, however, there is an immense difficulty in identifying as capitalists individuals who have no property rights over the means of production nor legal private claim over the social surplus. To the extent that they can acquire individual wealth it is the result of a combination of material incentives, pilfering and corruption. There is little they can do with that wealth except enjoy consumer luxuries not readily available to others; they cannot use it to invest or control the economy in any way. They cannot use their “insider” knowledge of the economic plan to buy stocks in certain corporations, nor can they transfer their wealth to their offspring in the form of inheritance. A closer counterpart to the Soviet elite in capitalist society would be the professional petit bourgeoisie rather than the bourgeoisie.

Ironically, the very privileges which this stratum of Soviet society enjoys – and the privileges are real – suggests that they are not likely to attempt to undermine the socialist system as it presently exists which gives them these privileges in favor of a much chancier capitalist system.

Do the privileges, both relative and absolute, enjoyed by high-level state, party and technical functionaries in the Soviet Union indicate a problem of socialist development? Of course they do. Objectively, this reflects the persistence of the contradiction between mental and manual labor, administration and execution, specialized and general functions, etc., which will characterize socialist societies at a still relatively low level of development of the forces of production. From this, there is a danger that this fragmentation of human society imposed by the social division of labor will be reified and frozen. This is a substantial and complex contradiction facing socialist construction in general and the USSR in particular.

On the level of line and policy, such privilege indicates the ideological deterioration of the Soviet party, not simply as exemplified in the tolerance of a measure of personal corruption, but in the pervasiveness of a mechanical materialist world outlook which has lost confidence in the revolutionary capacity of the masses and which is imbued with pragmatism and complacency. But capitalism is not principally a set of ideas or a philosophy. It is a mode of production. And no matter how much one may deplore the prevailing ideology in the leadership of the CPSU, it will have to be demonstrated that this stratum owes its position to its role in a capitalist mode of production before we can begin to consider them a new bourgeois class.

A second set of arguments on behalf of capitalist restoration holds that the Soviet economy is marked by cyclical crisis similar to the recession-prosperity cycle of the U.S., reflecting the anarchy of unplanned capitalist production and resultant unemployment; it posits a permanent industrial reserve who serve the function of depressing the wage-scale of the Soviet working class.

The restorationists must attempt to assert this as a description of the Soviet economy. These are such characteristic features of capitalism that we cannot imagine a capitalist system without them. In fact, they flow out of the very heart of the capitalist mode of production – generalized commodity production (the market determines all) and the drive for surplus value. But any attempt to demonstrate that these conditions actually characterize the Soviet economy quickly comes to grief on the hard rocks of fact.

The only phenomenon which remotely gives any credence to this charge is the gradual decline in the Soviet Union’s rate of industrial growth since 1950, a decline from the immediate post-World War II period of extensive reconstruction to a much more modest rate of approximately 3 to 4 percent annually (Nove, 1980). This slower growth rate does pose serious problems for the Soviet economy and, in our opinion, speaks in large part to the weakening consciousness of the Soviet working class in a period in which the party leadership has largely abandoned the task of raising the ideological and political level of the masses, which is a key factor in developing the forces of production under socialism. But even a slowed rate of Soviet growth is a far cry from the negative growth rates which continue to characterize capitalist recessions. During these recessions, plants shut down, companies go bankrupt, unemployment shoots up as the general crisis brought on by overproduction must work its way out of the classical capitalist bind.

In the USSR, however, industrial employment has increased substantially each year (Myth). As for the claim by the restorationists that during the past 20 years chronic unemployment and a reserve army of labor have appeared in the Soviet Union, all of the evidence points in the other direction. (The claim is important since, if true, it would indicate that a market in labor power had developed in the Soviet Union, thus bringing into being one of the indispensable features of capitalism.) But even among bourgeois experts on the Soviet economy – experts who would be more than happy to cite evidence of unemployment in the USSR if there were any – there is overwhelming agreement that the Soviet economy is characterized by a labor shortage which in fact has existed for many years (Nove, 1980).

What the restorationists take the liberty of terming unemployment is more precisely the recent phenomenon of relatively high mobility of labor in the Soviet Union. But as Goldfield and Rothenberg point out, the relatively high job turnover of the early 1960s was at least as extensive as that which occurred in the 1930s and was largely due to the fact that during and right after World War II (1940-56) there were legal restrictions on workers changing jobs without explicit permission. Thus, with the relaxation of these restrictions, there was a significant rise in the number of workers who voluntarily left their jobs, undoubtedly because the prospects for obtaining better ones were quite evident to them (Myth). Meanwhile, Soviet labor laws continue to subject all worker dismissals to a review by the trade union and stipulate that workers cannot be laid off unless provision has been made for other employment.

These laws remain strictly in force and would indicate that neither legally nor in practice have unemployment and a reserve army of labor returned as features of the Soviet economy. In fact, the estimated average time lapse between jobs for Soviet workers is approximately two weeks.

A third argument of the restorationists is that with the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union, there has been a decline in the standard of living of the Soviet masses, and that the phenomenon described by Marx of the absolute emiseration of the working class is now a feature of Soviet life. Indeed restorationist literature abounds with horror stories of the groaning Soviet working class increasingly feeling the burden of capitalist exploitation. These are usually accompanied by reports of a rising tide of class struggle of the Soviet working class which we are assured is bound to spell doom for “the new tsars.” Strangely enough the Soviet officials have apparently managed to keep this mounting class struggle secret from the international press – a trick their Polish counterparts have obviously not yet mastered! The lack of visibility of this class struggle in the USSR strongly suggests that the assertions are nothing but the workings of fancy when otherwise sober-minded individuals set out to “prove” a proposition which has originated solely in their imaginations.

What are the facts? Per capita food consumption in the Soviet Union has doubled during the past 25 years. Per capita consumption of consumer goods has increased four-fold. Services have tripled from 195 1 to 1975 in areas like housing, utilities and recreation. Government outlays for education and health services have tripled in the past 25 years. At the same time, the work week has been reduced and the minimum wage raised substantially (Myth). While there are problems in the availability and distribution of consumer goods (Nove, 1980), it is absurd to characterize the material welfare of the Soviet masses as one of increasing misery when, in fact, their standard of living has been increasing dramatically and steadily.

By itself, the fact that the standard of living of the Soviet masses has gone up does not, of course, disprove the capitalist restoration thesis. During certain periods and in the short run, capitalism has displayed its capacity to improve the living conditions of the masses. But here we are highlighting the Soviet reality in order to illustrate the extent to which the restorationists are prepared to play fast and loose with the facts in an effort to support their thesis. It also helps demonstrate their poor grasp of Marxist political economy since they should have understood that such fabrication is not necessarily required for the proof of their thesis.

Closely connected to this question is another one. that is, the relative degree of economic inequality in Soviet life and whether it is rising or declining. Overall consumption may rise but it could be so inequitably distributed that the masses of the people would still not be better off. This question speaks to the general trend of Soviet society, whether it is becoming in fact more or less egalitarian. Of course, inequities are difficult to measure simply in monetary terms. There are advantages, for instance access to higher education, which will not show up immediately in statistics on income. And there is evidence to indicate that the children of intellectuals do have greater access to higher education than do children from manual workers’ families (Szymanski), although it should be noted that there has been an absolute expansion of higher education for all sectors. It is also true that there is significant unreported income in the Soviet Union, especially among the upper strata of the population, where a number of individuals utilize their positions for illegal economic activity.

Bearing all these qualifications in mind, however, it can still be demonstrated that the overall tendency in the Soviet Union is toward a greater degree of equality in income (Szymanski, Goldfield and Rothenberg). The gap between the income of the lowest 10 percent of the Soviet working class and the income of the technicians, managers and senior-level party and government officials who might be said to constitute the upper 10 percent is closing steadily and rapidly (Myth). According to Nove (1980), engineers, doctors, teachers, and office employees have lost ground insofar as wages are concerned and many now earn less than skilled workers. The most striking exceptions to this pattern, in fact, are not to be found among the enterprise managers or high government and party officials, but among the top-name artists and entertainers, some of whom command truly extraordinary incomes – extraordinary, at least, by Soviet standards. This reflects a political problem (guarding against the temptations from the West) and an ideological problem (weaknesses in cultivating a proletarian consciousness among cultural workers), but clearly it does not reflect a fundamental reversal in the overall egalitarian trends in Soviet society.

The restorationists have given much attention to Soviet agriculture. According to them, the socialist economy of the Soviet Union was undermined first in the sphere of agriculture. This argument maintains that Khrushchev and his successors, through a program of decentralization, turned the collective farms over to managers and restored capitalism in the countryside. To support their allegations, the restorationists point to the failures of Soviet agriculture during the last 20 years. They claim that agricultural productivity and output have declined and that the social, political and economic life of the peasantry has deteriorated sharply. Accordingly, with the destruction of socialist forms of agriculture, a new capitalist class has developed in the rural areas, and private ownership and the peasant private plot have become the dominant forms of agriculture.

Now what is actually happening in Soviet agriculture? First of all, Soviet agriculture has been and remains the weak sector of the Soviet economy; it is relatively backward, inefficient, and still has a sizeable private sector – the peasant private plots. However as a result of huge investments, agricultural output and productivity are rising slowly, even though agriculture is still a net burden on the Soviet economy (Nove. 1980). None of these problems, however, began with the rise to power of Khrushchev and his successors but have in fact plagued Soviet agriculture since the 1930s (Myth). Many of the problems of Soviet agriculture are due to objective factors (e.g., a short growing season and a relatively narrow arable land belt) as well as the real ideological and political problems encountered in the construction of socialism in the rural areas. These factors and their intersection with the revisionist policies of the present Soviet leadership are very complex. It is only this type of thorough analysis which could begin to grasp the real situation and problems facing Soviet agriculture.

Contrary to the unfounded claims of the restorationists, in the post-Stalin period (beginning in 1953), there has been a dramatic tendency to extend the base of socialist agriculture and to improve both the absolute and relative quality of life for the peasantry. Many collective farms have been converted into state farms (the highest form of socialist agriculture) and smaller collective farms have been amalgamated into larger collective farms (Nove, An Economic History of the USSR, 1976). The guaranteed minimum wage and pension, previously available in rural areas only to the state farm workers, have been extended to the collective farm peasants. Rural wages and peasant income have risen steadily, while agricultural production has doubled between 1953 and 1973 (Myth). Education and health care has improved significantly for the collective farm peasants since 1953 (Nove, 1976).

The private plots of the collective farm peasants, guaranteed by the 1936 Soviet Constitution, do continue to play an importnt economic role in the Soviet Union, accounting for one-quarter of total agricultural production (Myth). However, during the last twenty years the percentage of total production from the private plots has declined. This is also the case for the percentage of total peasant income derived from the private plots, since the steady increase in rural wages and other changes noted above have made “private” farming less necessary. And while it is true that much of the potatoes, vegetables and eggs are still produced on private plots, they must be worked by the farmers themselves. Hired labor cannot be utilized; neither can the assigned private plots be sold or rented.

These features and developments in Soviet agriculture are hardly compatible with the claim that capitalism has been restored in the countryside and that the private sector is being extended and encouraged by the present Soviet leadership.

The political centerpiece of the “political economy” thesis is that the program of economic reforms introduced in 1965 by Soviet Premier Alexander Kosygin, the “Kosygin Reforms,” signified the full restoration of capitalism in the USSR, that in effect they represented the legal alteration of the Soviet economy from socialism to capitalism. According to Nicolaus and others, these reforms abolished the central plan, allowed the enterprise manages to invest increasingly according to market considerations, established full private ownership in the means of production and opened up the free competition of capitalism. Most of these assertions are readily refuted simply by examining the Soviet economy as we have already done.

But a comment on the Kosygin reforms in general is nevertheless appropriate since the reforms themselves demonstrate to what lengths the restorationists have gone in distorting Soviet reality and history. On the other hand, the reforms also help to reveal some of the major problems which continue to plague the Soviet leadership in their efforts to manage the socialist economy while tied to an economic determinist and mechanical materialist world outlook.

The chief impetus for the Kosygin reforms was the declining growth rate of the economy, which the Soviet leadership correctly attributed to the relatively low rate of labor productivity. Leadership summed up the problem principally as one of inefficiency in the productive process, which tended to be aggravated by some of the outlandish policies of Khrushchev which created bureaucratic chaos within the economic planning and party apparatus.

The reforms called for a big push for more mechanization and improved technique, as well as a campaign to stress increasing the profits of Soviet enterprises. The latter was to be accomplished by attempts to streamline and simplify production and distribution guidelines from the central planning agencies, and to induce higher production and more efficiency through a system of material incentives to managers and workers alike.

Now there is little doubt that maximum utilization of the available productive forces is a real problem that probably reflects one of the central contradictions of the socialist period. Under capitalism, similar problems are solved by the ruthlessness of the marketplace. When companies are too inefficient technically, they fail. A minimum labor productivity is guaranteed through the ever present fear that the capitalist will exercise his right to fire, lay off, move the shop in search of a cheaper, more pliable labor force, etc. For socialism, the problem is how to increase production taking into account a whole host of variables without sabotaging the overall economic plan or reducing the workers to wage slaves to be hired and fired, at will, and for whom no responsibility has to be taken.

The Kosygin reforms were an attempt to solve this problem principally by an administrative approach which did confer upon plant managers a greater measure of authority than they previously had enjoyed, both over the production plan for the enterprise and the work process. Enterprise targets from central planning agencies were reduced from 20 or 30 to about 8 (Szymanski). But in no way did this qualitatively dismantle socialist planning. The quality and quantity of goods, size of wage fund, amount of state allocation and percent of return to state budget, material and technical supplies, etc. were all still stipulated centrally. The significant thing is that the implementation of these modest Kosygin reforms proved impossible because the measures ran counter to the centralized planning apparatus at the heart of the Soviet system. As a result, the reforms for the most part were scrapped in the mid-seventies (Aurthur), a fact which our restorationists conveniently neglect to mention. In addition, while enterprise directors did acquire a greater measure of flexibility that would permit them to discharge excess workers, this was offset by other measures which required trade union approval of any such discharges and the guarantee of an equivalent job elsewhere for the discharged workers {Myth).

The problem of Soviet economic growth, of course, remains quite serious. The economic determinist approach of the Soviet leadership runs long on improving technique, mechanization and computers (all of which are important), but runs short on the ideological remolding and political orientation of the Soviet masses. This holds back the revolutionary potential of the Soviet proletariat to solve the economic problems of socialist construction in the USSR.

Lastly, of all the arguments the restorationists have advanced to prove that the Soviet Union is capitalist, none has had a more serious negative political impact than the claim that the Soviet Union has become a “social-imperialist” superpower. On the basis of this notion, a whole section of the international communist movement has abandoned materialism and concluded that the essence of Soviet foreign policy is indistinguishable from the foreign policy of the U.S. The restorationist argument is straightforward: With the re-emergence of capitalist relations, the Soviet Union has become an imperialist power with a socialist cover. The countries of Eastern Europe, Vietnam, and Cuba are mere colonial appendages of the USSR, exploited and oppressed at the whim of the Soviet tsars. The developing, nonsocialist countries are, in turn, a playground for the rapacious Soviet capitalists. Most important, the huge Soviet military is a clear expression that the “social-imperialists” are determined to conquer the world through a war with their major imperialist rival, the U.S.

Aside from the fact that the restorationists have far from proven that capitalism has been restored in the Soviet Union, this scenario suffers not only from a lack of supportive evidence but from a simplicity that is both mendacious and demagogic. Its objective effect is to obscure the danger of U.S. imperialism to the people of the world.

First of all let us register that the very term social-imperialism as used by the restorationists represents in itself a distortion of an important Marxist-Leninist concept, a point that will be developed in the next section. For the moment, however, we will confine our comments to certain phenomena which have apparently captured the imagination of our restorationists.

Their favorite theme is the Myth that the Soviet Union maintains economic relations of exploitation with other socialist countries as well as with the non-socialist, oppressed countries. As anyone who has studied Chairman Mao’s Theory of the Differentiation of the Three Worlds is aware, the evidence mustered to support this claim borders on the ludicrous. Careful analyses of the existing data on the Soviet Union’s economic relations with other countries indicate that this theme is a gross and intentional distortion of the facts (Aurthur, Szymanski). In general Soviet foreign relations may be characterized as follows. The Soviet Union does not export capital to other countries nor does it own means of production beyond its borders. Soviet trade agreements tend to be equitable and the traditional imperialist pattern of importing raw materials and exporting finished goods is absent. The USSR often imports finished goods and in return exports raw materials. In contrast to “economic assistance” from capitalist countries, the terms of Soviet economic assistance and loans are usually favorable to the recipient country and usually include repayment at relatively low interest rates (Aurthur, Szymanski).

To cite one well known example of Soviet economic aid frequently distorted by the restorationists – Cuba. The Soviet Union has for many years subsidized the two major exports of Cuba – sugar and nickel – through purchases at prices above the world market price (Aurthur). Given the grave political and economic situation in Cuba created by the U.S.-coordinated embargo against Cuban goods, the very existence of Cuba as a socialist country would have been extremely tenuous without Soviet economic assistance.

It is true, however, that the Soviet Union has used both its economic and political power in attempts to maneuver other socialist countries into line with its own domestic and foreign policies. This is a reflection of the nationalist deviation which dominates the worldview of the revisionist Soviet leadership. But to confuse nationalism and revisionism with imperialism, the highest stage of capitalism, is inexcusable from the standpoint of Marxism-Leninism.

Finally, with respect to the question of Soviet “militarism,” it is necessary to consider first the basic difference between imperialism and socialism, a point carefully obscured by the CPC and other restorationists. Imperialism requires the militarization of society and the development of a war-making capacity in order to pursue its political and economic objectives. Socialism, by contrast, inherently requires neither since it is a social system dedicated to the elimination of the sources of war, exploitation and oppression. However, the existence of imperialism means that socialist countries must develop a military capacity both as a defensive measure and as a means of rendering assistance to other revolutionary movements in their struggles against imperialism.

Since Lenin’s time, Soviet military policy has emphasized the need to maintain a powerful defense with the capacity to go over to the offensive in the event of an attack on the Soviet Union (Aurthur). The strategic military policy of U.S. imperialism since the end of World War II has been to contain socialism through the threat of nuclear annihilation, in particular directed at the Soviet Union. Given the exceedingly dangerous orientation of U. S. imperialism, it has been necessary and correct for the Soviet Union to strive for military parity with the U.S., especially in relation to nuclear weaponry. To have done otherwise would have been politically naive and would have constituted out and out capitulation to imperialism.

In terms of the distortions of the restorationists, the point here is that the Soviet military build-up is not endemic to the Soviet Union’s economy. Unlike the situation in the U.S. where a military-industrial complex has a material interest in the development of weaponry (and the banks have a material interest in the military as the instrument for defending the international expansion of capital), the necessity for military development in the USSR acts as an impediment on the full socialist development of the economy. And yet the Soviet leaders have little choice in the matter. Far from being the cause of the international arms race, as the U.S. imperialists and their ”left” opportunist cohorts argue, the Soviet military build-up is principally a defensive policy to maintain parity with the U.S. Furthermore it is an eminently necessary and useful development which serves not only to defend the USSR but to provide a significant measure of assistance and security to other socialist countries and to anti-imperialist forces in general.

(Part 2 of this article will appear in the next issue of Line of March)


[1] The earliest full expression would appear to have been the CPC’s Ninth Comment on the Open Letter of the Central Committee of the CPSU, titled On Khrushchev’s Phoney Communism and Its Historical Lessons for the World (See The Polemic on the General Line of the International Communist Movement, Foreign Languages Press, Beijing 1965.)

[2] Bettleheim’s actual thesis on capitalist restoration is not laid out comprehensively in any single work. His most explicit formulations appear in his debate with Sweezy, On the Transition to Socialism. His general theoretical framework can be found in the more esoteric work, Economic Calculations and Forms of Property. Lastly, his most well known work, Class Struggle in the USSR, appears to be his historical proof, but even here his actual thesis remains largely implied and sparsely scattered throughout the book.

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