State Capitalism in Russia Paperback – 11 Oct 1974
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"State Capitalism In Russia" (originally written as "The Nature Of Stalinist Russia") deals with exceptional clarity with the argument of Trotsky that Russia was still a Marxian workers' state because the property was nationalised.
Cliff was simple and forceful in his argument that a complete counterrevolution had occurred in Russia during the 1920s when Stalin rose to power. He shows using available government statistics that whilst most resources up to Stalin's triumph in the 1920s were devoted to improving the living standards of the Russian masses, from the time of the Five-Year Plans, all these resources were transferred into the hands of the bureaucracy. As Cliff sees it, this bureaucracy accumulated vast resources through exploitation of the Russian working class, in the process building a military-industrial complex that aimed directly to compete with market capitalist nations in the West for production of the most powerful weapons. Stalin saw this as the only way to protect the USSR, but in fact the only way a socialist regime could have survived was via the overthrow of the Western ruling classes and seizure of their vast internationally accumulated profits.
Cliff shows clearly how much better off for wages the Russian masses were under Lenin than under either the Tsar or Stalin and, as a prerequisite for this, how much higher a proportion of production was devoted to consumer rather than capital goods under Lenin.
At the same time, Cliff clearly shows how oriented Russian laws were to protecting the power of the bureaucratic ruling class. A perfect example is the exceptionally regressive turnover tax system, which the radical left have likened to the tzxes in developed nations on consumption that disproportionately affect the poor. Marxism advocated the use of steeply progressive taxes on income and inheritance and abolishing all indirect taxation.
Cliff is similarly clear about how his theory of state capitalism explains what had actually occurred in Eastern Europe since 1945: new ruling classes had been established on the Soviet model by parties merely calling themselves "Communist": workers had no control over the means of production.
Cliff's theory of state capitalism explains the Soviet ruling class' actions in the years after World War II very well because understanding the bureaucracy as a capitalist ruling class explains their desire to compete with the West. Cliff is also very clear in his view that only a genuine workers' revolution could produce a genuine socialist system where the needs of the masses take precedence over the enrichment of the wealthy.
Many reader, however, find the idea of Lenin's Russia as a model for workers' liberation dubious.
Whilst Cliff does clearly demonstrate major differences between Lenin's and Stalin's Russia (so do mainstream historians), the view that socialism eliminated chivalry in warfare is interpreted very differently on the right - that Lenin himself with the Cheka eliminated it. the size of the Cheka, according to Soviet archives, was so large that claims by the radical left that the Whites were responsible for the carnage of the Russian Civil War are dubious. This in itself makes claims of Stalini's counterrevolution less clear than Tony Cliff himself would like them to be. It also makes one question whether Leninism was the model for workers' power I was taught it was as a young student at Melbourne University.
This is a very good book, but it's claims really need to be tested against evidence from a truly opposing side - and the mainstream centre never does that.
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