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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 16, July 12, 1976.

The Soviet Status

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The [unclear: Soviet] Status

The Mirage of Soviet Imperialism

Terry Auld's article "Who's the Best Marxman" (Part 1) pulled the "crucial question in this debate" out of the hat: "What is the real nature of Soviet society today?"

This debate is in fact continuing world-wide among those who have up till now followed Peking's view that the Soviet Union had "restored capitalism".

This is because the rhetoric of the Chinese government has taken a new turn, in that it now regards the Soviet Union as the "main danger" in the world today. This view, which happens to coincide with the statements of the United States imperialists (Terry Auld even quotes Henry Kissinger and Helmut Sonnenfelt as two of his authorities!) has repelled many of those who in the past uncritically supported China's foreign policy.

For example, Irwin Silber, the editor of The Guardian, the leading Maoist weekly in American, said in a speech recently that Peking's view of the Soviet Union as the main danger is a "profound historical error..... the struggle against U.S. imperialism is the main objective." He described the United States as the "chief prop of Western imperialism" and the "most powerful oppressive and exploiting force in the world".

Terry Auld, on the other hand, is still sucking on his Peking life saver.

Soviet Economic and Social System

Much of his talk about "Soviet imperialism" has hinged on the question of military might. But in "Who's the Best Marxman", Auld admits that this is not sufficient, that what is important is the economic and social system of a country. Imperialism is the highest stage of capitalism - when the U.S. wields the big stick, as it did in Korea, in Cuba, and Vietnam and in Chile, it is in direct defence of its economic interests. So now Auld tries to prove that the USSR is challenging the U.S. economically, pointing to a succession of examples of Russian investment overseas. (We must note that Auld gives the source for none of this information, which makes it difficult to check on and to see in context.)

Even if the Russian investments that Auld cites were those of a capitalist country, they hardly suggest that the Soviet Union is challenging the United States for "hegemony". He can only unearth some economic ventures of pipsqueak proportions.

Auld points to the example of motor vehicle and tractor assembly plants in Belgium. These are, he says the "Soviet equivalent of Ford and GM". But the combined gross product of Ford and General Motors exceeds by far that of the whole of Belgium!" (1970 figures).

Auld then talks about the "Singaporean joint stock company, Marissco, which has a joint stock of $12 million". But even the top 19 companies in New Zealand have each a capital of more than $12 million! (Guide to the Top N.Z. Companies, 1975).

Not one Soviet "joint stock company" is even among the 300 largest corporations outside the United States; the Soviet bank is not one of the 50 largest non-U S. banks (as listed in Fortune, August, 1975).

This is in complete contrast to the United States, which has spread its investments everywhere and which is visibly the major force in the world capitalist economy.

An example of the contrast between the Soviet Union and American can be seen in Angola, where, although Soviet aid backed the winning side in Uncivil war (the MPLA), it is the U.S. today which is reestablishing investments there on a vast scale. The U.S. company Gulf Oil is continuing to extract huge profits from Angola.

Auld-himself admits that he "never made any such claim that Soviet investments were challenging those of U.S corporations in these (third world) countries." Then he tries to dodge the point by simply declaring that this is not 'in any way significant to my argument."

But the whole thrust of his argument is that the USSR is "in the ascendancy", that it is challenging the United States for world domination. How can this be if the Soviet Union is not a serious economic competitor for world markets?

Post-Capitalist Countries Caught in System

The build-up of the Soviet Union's military forces is not a manifestation of "imperialist" rivalry, but is caused by other factors.

What then are these factors? And if the Soviet Union is not imperialist, then what are these joint-stock companies, and why does it set up banks in capitalist countries?

The fact is that all post-capitalist states have to trade with capitalist countries. Chinese international trade takes the same form as that of Russia. In fact by Auld's definition, China should be "state capitalist" and "imperialist' too. For example, China provided a $412 million loan to build the railway from Tanzania to Zambia (Current Scene). Part of the agreement of this loan was that both African countries agreed to import Chinese goods, many of them of dubious quality and some in competition with local products. But does this alone make China a "capitalist" nation?

The need for post-capitalist countries to trade in an international capitalist market also necessitates a certain amount of competition with capitalist enterprises: for example. Chinese competition with Indonesia for the Japanese oil market affects Indonesian oil production to the extent that it dropped 5 per cent in 1975. ("Facts on File", 1976). Auld's own example in his Salient article "The Russians are Coming" about the Soviet merchant fleet undercutting the conference lines, falls into this category.

Only to the extent that China and Russia do trade with capitalist countries do they show one of the unavoidable features of modern capitalism - inflation.

The fact that the Soviet Union and China have similar economies is shown in their mutual trade, which is not subject to the inflation of inter-capitalist trade (Current Scene - Developments in the People's Republic of China, Vol XII No. 12).

All these factors have raised doubts in many people's minds as to whether Russia has really restored capitalism. Guardian editor Irwin Silber, in the same speech quoted above posed four questions that Marxists-have to answer if they are to show that this has happened: to what degree has private property been restored in the USSR? Is there production fur private profit? Can a "capitalist" economy have no unemployment? And is private property inherited in the Soviet Union?

Auld answers none of these questions. Instead he states blandly that Russia is "state monopoly capitalist", proceeds to a piecemeal analysis of Soviet "imperialism" and mentions nothing specific about Russia's internal economy.

Auld quotes from Engels' "Anti-Duhring" in an attempt to prove that the Soviet Union is "national capitalist". But when this quote is read in its original context it can be seen that Engels is referring to the drive of the capitalist state to take over certain industries - like the N.Z. railways! As Engels says "....... this necessity for conversion into state property is felt first in the great institutions for intercourse and communication - the post office, the telegraphs, the railways" (Anti-Duhring, Part 3 Chapter 3). In other words, Auld's example has no relevance to modern-day Russia.

Auld Misuses Marx

Lenin had some words for those who misuse quotes from Marxist writings as Terry Auld has done with this one: "Marxism is an extremely profound and many-sided doctrine. It is, therefore, no wonder that scraps of quotations from Marx - especially when the quotations are made inappropriately - can always be found among the 'arguments' of those who break with Marxism." (Collected Works, Vol 26, p. 212).

If Auld wants to show that the Soviet Union is "national capitalist", he has to prove that the state has again changed hands. In other words, for a workers' state to become capitalist again, it has to undergo a counterrevolution. And just as a revolution involves the sharp build-up of conflicting class forces, usually accompanied by violence, so does a counterrevolution. Just as there is no "peaceful road" to socialism, there is no "peaceful return" to capitalism.

Auld does not say when and how such a counter-revolution occurred in the Soviet Union. Elsewhere (in the China Society pamphlet China's Foreign Policy), he implies that capitalism was somehow restored after the death of Stalin: "we must understand that things have changed dramatically since Stalin's time. The Soviet Union is no longer a socialist country....." Yet he cannot put a date on this!

The key thing for Terry Auld and for the Peking leaders, who still carry on the policies of Joseph Stalin, is the fact that the Soviet leadership under Khrusehev made some criticisms of Stalin. They are much more concerned with this heresy than with bothering to prove in real terms that a social or economic transformation has taken place in Russia.

There is a parallel to this in the case of Rumania, which is a part of the Soviet Bloc, Comecon and the Warsaw Pact. Yet because Rumania has not criticised the Chinese leadership as severely as has the Kremlin, it remains "socialist" in the eyes of Peking.

Auld comes closest to the true nature of the Soviet bureaucracy when he says that "through its control of the party and the state, the Soviet bureaucracy owns, controls and directs the means of production...." He also says that the "legal social relations.... are still socialist", but he tries to draw a distinction between the legal relations and the "actual social relations". (Our emphasis.)

Auld is correct when he says that the bureaucracy controls the means of production, but not when he says it owns it.

Soviet Rulers a Caste

Production in Russia is controlled by the government, through conscious planning, and not subject to the anarchy of the capitalist market. Such characteristics of capitalism as unemployment and inflation do not feature in the Soviet Union.

Furthermore, the Russian bureaucrats have no stocks or bonds, and cannot pass on their powers to their heirs. Compare that to the Rockefellers and Fords!

It makes more sense to describe the rulers of the Soviet Union as a "bureaucracy" (as Auld does in many places) rather than a "ruling class". That is, not simply a government administration, but an administration whose power and privilege have become ends in themselves. The Soviet bureaucrats are privileged in relation to the living standards of the working people: for example, they have access to (and can afford) luxury goods that the mass of the population can only look at through shop windows.

But the existence of this privileged ruling social group does not date merely from the 1950s, or from when Khrusehev criticised Stalin. Its features have been analysed ever since they first appeared in the 1920s and 1930s, most notably by the Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky, in his book The Revolution Betrayed : What is the Soviet Union and Where is it Going?, published in 1936.


Trotsky criticised the bureaucracy's privileges: "since the soviet cadres (key decision-makers) come forward under a socialist banner, they demand an almost divine veneration and a continually rising salary... (The bureaucrats) occupy lordly apartments, enjoy several summer houses in various parts of the country, have the best automobiles at their disposal, and have long ago forgotten how to shine their shoes."

He also dealt with the argument, which was even then being raised, that the bureaucracy was a "ruling class" in the Marxist sense. The bureaucrats do not derive their wealth from ownership of shares he says, but "The bureaucracy enjoys its privileges under the form of an abuse of power."

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The Soviet bureaucracy was not discovered by Trotsky, but was a problem discussed by Lenin, who died in 1924, shortly after the Russian revolution For instance, in his Political Report to the Eleventh Party Congress (Collected Works, Vol 33) he talked of the Moscow government apparatus as "that huge bureaucratic machine, that gigantic heap" and advocated the establishment of a special body, the "Workers and Peasants Inspection", as a means of checking the bureaucracy.

What Trotsky saw in later years was that under Stalin this bureaucracy had become a hardened, quite distinct, privileged social layer, which he described as a "caste". This bureaucracy was, and still is, not merely characterised by its privileged position, but by its political conservatism, its desire to maintain the status quo both internally and internationally This was reflected in the Soviet regime's policy of "Socialism in one country" - or in today's terminology "peaceful coexistence" or "detente" with imperialism.

The bureaucrats also introduced rigid control of political discussion and expression. What the Soviet regime viewed as "Marxism" became a sort of official religion, instead of a system of critical thought as Marx had intended. Any dissidents were cracked down on severly, and this process led in the 1930s and later decades to wholesale imprisonment and executions of socialists, under Stalin's rule.

Repression of Individual Freedoms

This thoroughly repressive approach, against any and every individual who differs with the official policy, was adopted in not just Russia but in China as well. The Maoist regime, which has always proclaimed its links with the traditions of Stalin, today reviles anyone who steps out of line, including top government officials Recent examples of this process are former Chinese Premier Liu Shao-Chi; Mao's "close comrade in arms and successor" Lin Piao, and Teng Hsia-Ping, rumoured to have been in line for the "succession" to Chou En-lai. None of these figures have had a chance to answer publicly the mountain of charges upon them, "capitalist roader", "Kuomintang agent", "Trotskyite". "big scab" etc etc etc. Democratic freedoms (of speech, publishing etc) exist no more in China than they do in Russia.

The Sino-Soviet split of the 1960s gave rise to two conflicting state religions - the Gospel according to Moscow, and the Gospel according to Peking, each vilifying and denouncing the other, and each involved in basically the same conservative "detente" foreign policy in relation to the capitalist world.

Despite the privilege and conservatism of the bureaucracies however, the progressive social essence of the Russian and Chinese revolutions, the material gains embodied in socialised industry, remains. This is why the working people in those countries have rallied to their defence - most outstandingly when Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. This is also the explanation for the "much higher morale" in the Russian as opposed to the Nato armed forces, which Terry Auld seems so worried about.

The Soviet Union (and China) have always had a defensive stance. They have been forced to build up their armed forces (including a nuclear capability) because of the agressive actions and military buildup of the United States and its imperialist allies. It is the imperialist powers of Western Europe, Japan and North America who have been the prime cause of world tension ever since the Russian revolution of 1917.

The government's anti-Russian campaign is an anti-communist campaign, with the aim of weakening support for and undermining the post-capitalist states. Right-wingers like Muldoon are opposed to the Soviet Union (and China) because these countries represent a huge area of the world removed from the domain of the stock market and the imperialist cash register. There is nothing that they would like to do more than to overthrow the conquests of the Russian and Chinese revolutions.

This is why it is foolish for socialists to go along with the anti-Russia campaign of Muldoon.

Photo of a man with dark eyebrows

To sum up: in our view the Soviet Union is neither capitalist nor socialist. It is a contradictory society halfway between capitalism and socialism in which
(a)severe inequalities exist between the priviliged strata and the working people;
(b)the ruling bureaucracy has converted itself into an uncontrolled caste alien to socialism;
(c)the original social revolution, betrayed by the ruling group still exists in property relations and in the consciousness of the vast majority;
(d)future developments can lead either forward to socialism or back to capitalism;
(e)on the road to socialism, the workers would have to overthrow the bureaucracy;
(f)on the road to capitalism, the counterrevolution would have to break the resistance of the workers.

We take the side of the Russian working people in this conflict, both in their opposition to the Soviet bureaucracy and in their confrontation with the capitalist enemies of the Russian revolution. In lining up with Muldoon against Russia, Terry Auld is joining that enemy camp.