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(en) Anarkismo.net - What Do We Mean By Anti-Capitalism? by Wayne Price - NEFAC

Date Thu, 29 Jun 2006 07:44:55 +0300

Part 1 of The Nature of Stalinist Societies
If anti-capitalists want an alternative to capitalism, we need to
examine the nature of countries of the type of the Soviet Union.
There are three groups of theories about them. One is the idea that
these societies are socialist or “workers’ states.” This
will be compared with the original libertarian goals of classless
socialism. This is the first of a 3 part series.
Many activists call themselves “anti-capitalist.” But this is a
negative; what should we be for? Since anti-capitalists wish to find
an alternative to the current system, it is necessary to examine the
nature of societies which claim to have once replaced capitalism,
namely the former Soviet Union and similar nations. There is a large
left literature on this topic. Many radicals have sought to analyze the
countries ruled by Communist (Marxist-Leninist) Parties, countries
which called themselves “socialist” and which many of us on
the far-left called “Stalinist.” However, to a lot of radicals
today this area of theory seems old, being about a country far away
which no longer exists. From 1989 to 1992 the Soviet Union and the
Stalinist governments of Eastern Europe dissolved, in a combination
of popular revolt and maneuvering by sections of the ruling
bureaucracy. Therefore, many conclude that it is no longer relevant
to study the nature of these states.

I strongly disagree with this attitude of uninterest. For one thing,
Communist Party-ruled regimes continue to play a significant role in
the world. The great nation of China affects today’s world
economy, politics, and military balance. There are still a number of
small Asian countries with Communist Party governments. This
includes North Korea, whose nuclear armament affects international
tensions. The Cuban government continues to play a major role in
Latin American affairs, particularly in alliance with the Venezuelan
regime of Hugo Chavez. The Marxist-Leninist FARC maintains a
state within a state in Columbia. This has been a growing target of
U.S. intervention. And many radicals are attracted to the Maoist
rebellion in Nepal, which has a chance of coming to power. Finally,
to understand the world, it is necessary to understand what is going
on in the successor states to the Soviet Union, such as Russia,
Ukraine, Kazakhstan, etc., along with the new Eastern European
states. This cannot be done without understanding their very recent
history, the system they lived under until a few years ago.

To me, however, the most important reason for studying the nature
of the Soviet Union and similar states is the light it sheds on what we
mean by ANTI-CAPITALISM and by SOCIALISM. Whether we
regard these states as socialist determines what we think is the
alternative to capitalism. There are a great many radicals who are
attracted to the model of the old Soviet Union or of Maoist China,
who are impressed by Cuba today or by the Nepalese Maoists. They
would like to create a world in which all countries are more-or-less
like Cuba, including North America and Europe. They described the
Soviet Union and Cuba as “really existing socialism.” That
is, if you want socialism, this is the socialism which really existed,
whatever you would have liked it to be, so anti-capitalists better
accept it.

Conversely, the establishments of Western capitalism have been
glad to agree that the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, etc. are/were
“socialist” and “communist.” They say, capitalism
may have faults, but this is the only “anti-capitalist”
alternative which ever was or ever could be. These ugly, totalitarian,
Stalinist states are the only socialism which could ever exist. So
everyone must accept capitalism, they declare.

(I call these regimes “Stalinist.” This does not deny that
Lenin and Trotsky laid the basis for Stalin’s totalitarianism. Nor
do I deny that there were important changes in these countries after
Stalin’s death. But I believe that this system became
consolidated under Stalin’s rule, when the last remnants of the
Russian revolution were destroyed, tens of millions of workers and
peasants were exterminated, and the new bureaucratic ruling class
was solidified. Russian totalitarianism became the program of all
Communist Parties, such as the Chinese. So Stalinism is an
appropriate label.)

Among radicals, particularly among anarchists, there are tendencies
which reject the labels of socialist, of communist, and of the left. For
them it is not a problem that the Soviet Union’s system is
identified with socialism. They agree with this identification. I will
not go further into these tendencies right now, except to point out
that they reject not just state socialism but the whole of the socialist

Historically anarchists considered themselves to be a part of the
left--the extreme left of the left, that is, the most oppositional of
those in opposition to capitalism and the state. They considered
themselves as an extreme part of the socialist movement. In his
famous article on “Anarchism” for the Encyclopedia
Britannica, Kropotkin wrote of “...the anarchists, in common
with all socialists, of whom they constitute the left wing...consider
the wage-system and capitalist production altogether as an obstacle
to progress.” (1975, p. 109)

The tendency with which I identify is revolutionary, class-struggle,
pro-organizational, anarchism. By “anti-capitalism” we
mean libertarian socialism and authentic communism. We advocate
replacing capitalism with a cooperative network of self-managing
producer and consumer associations and communes, which will
produce goods for use, not for profit. It will be democratically
planned from the bottom up. Society will be coordinated through
these associations and communes, in a federation of workplace and
community councils. The police and military will be replaced by a
popular militia, so long as it is needed.

“In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class
antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free
development of each is the condition for the free development of
all.” These are the stated goals of the Communist Manifesto of
Marx and Engels. (1955, p. 32) They are the original goals of the
socialist project, reflected both in the humanistic, libertarian
tendency within Marxism and in revolutionary anarchism. Did the
Stalinist regimes meet these goals? Were they even going in that
direction? If not, what does it mean to call them “socialist?”
These are questions I will discuss in this 3-part series.
The Three Theories About Stalinism
On the left, theories about the nature of the Soviet Union can be
grouped into three trends.
One (to be considered in this part) is that it was a form of socialism,
or tending toward socialism, or a “post-capitalist” society.
Trotsky regarded the Soviet Union under Stalin as a
“degenerated workers’ state.” After World War II his
orthodox followers called the new Stalinist states, “deformed
workers’ states” (since they could not be
“degenerated” without having had actual workers’
revolutions; but most of these theorists regard Cuba as a
“healthy workers’ state”). In any case, these theories
regard the Stalinist system as better (more “progressive”)
than capitalism .

A second group of theories regards Stalinism as a new, third, type of
class society. It is, they claim, not socialism and not capitalism. The
bureaucracy was a new ruling class which managed a nationalized,
collectivized, economy. It exploited the workers in some fashion.
This system is not better than capitalism and possibly is worse. Such
a theory (called “bureaucratic collectivism”) was developed
by some dissident Trotskyists. A version has been developed by the
theorists of “Parecon.”

A third group of theories regards the system as a variant of
capitalism, despite its apparent differences from traditional
capitalism. Usually this is called “state capitalism.” The
concept is rooted in the work of Marx and Engels. It has mostly been
developed by dissident Trotskyists but anarchists have also used it.
In my opinion this is the best analysis of this system.

I will discuss the new-type-of-class-society theories in Part 2 of this
series, next month. State capitalism will be reviewed in Part 3 of the
Was the Soviet Union “Socialist”?
Whether to call the Soviet Union “socialist” may be a matter
of definition. If people wish to define “socialism” as
government-owned industry--which may be what most mean by
“socialism”--then the Stalinist countries were indeed
socialist. I cannot prove that a definition is “wrong.”
However, the Marxism which the system’s supporters claim to
follow describes socialism in a different way (at least Marx’s
Marxism does). It insists on a class analysis of each society. In the
very same section of the Communist Manifesto which was quoted
above, Marx and Engels declared, “...The first step in the
revolution by the working class is to raise the proletariat to the
position of ruling class, to establish democracy...the state, i.e....the
proletariat organized as the ruling class....When in the course of
development, class distinctions have disappeared...the public power
will lose its political character.” (1955, pp. 31-32)

That is, to Marx, the working class and its allies (peasants, women,
etc.) would take over society and establish true democracy, a
“state” which is nothing but the self-organized working
class. It will proceed (rapidly or slowly) to end all class distinctions
and the state. (Libertarian Marxists believe that Marx became even
more anti-statist after the Paris Commune.) I am not discussing here
the validity of libertarian (autonomist) Marxism, just pointing to its
overlap with class-struggle anarchism in the socialist project.

It is obvious that countries of the Soviet Union’s type do not
meet these class criteria. There was (is) a bureaucracy of bosses on
top, who ran everything and made the decisions. The state was the
bureaucracy “organized as the ruling class.” In a planned
economy, they did the planning. The workers were on the bottom,
taking orders, doing what they were told, and resisting where they
could--just as under capitalism. There was a vast system of police
repression. Only one party was allowed; all others, even socialist
parties, were outlawed. No opposition caucuses were permitted
within the single party either. Organizing for other views, such as
anarchism, was rewarded by jail, labor camps, mental hospitals, or
death. Independent unions and strikes were banned. Therefore the
working population had no choices and no way to control their

Supporters of the Stalinist system knew this, of course. They could
hardly deny that the Soviet Union then and Cuba today are
single-party dictatorships. They could only argue that these were
benevolent dictatorships, good for the workers. They could point to
real or imagined low-level workplace assemblies, for example (in
which the workers could decide how to carry out their part of plans
which had been made elsewhere, by others). Criticisms of the
one-party dictatorships usually were answered by changing the topic,
by pointing out that, after all, the U.S., with its two parties, is really a
dictatorship of the big capitalists (true, but irrelevant to criticisms of

In fact, these supposedly benevolent dictatorships were enforced
through massive terror. 20 million workers and peasants may have
been murdered under Stalin’s rule, to solidify the bureaucracy.
Millions more died under Mao, in the Great Leap Forward and the
Cultural Revolution. In Cambodia/Kampuchea, Pol Pot
exterminated a fourth of the population. Many thousands have
risked their lives fleeing from Vietnam, North Korea, Tibet, and
Cuba. Even the less violent regimes, such as Cuba’s, are backed
by enormous police forces and have a large number of political

Clearly, in none of these states is the proletariat in the position of the
ruling class, on the road to abolishing all class distinctions and the
state. The most repressive regimes on earth, with states similar in
structure to Nazi Germany’s, disguise themselves as the
embodiment of the most advanced, liberating, socialist ideals! This
is disgusting, although not without its logic. What is especially
disgusting is that so many radicals let them get away with it, either
by supporting these states or by rejecting the ideals of socialism. (To
what extent Marxism led to such tyranny, i.e. what are the
authoritarian aspects within Marxism, is another discussion.)

Also astonishing is the number of well-meaning radicals who are
impressed with the Maoists of Nepal. The 60s and 70s have come
and gone. We have seen this movie before. We know--or should
know--how it comes out. We know what happens when movements
with Marxist-Leninist (Stalinist) or radical nationalist leaders take
power. The result is never the democratic rule of the working
Defense of Stalinism
The apologists argue that these societies were good for the working
class, and therefore the workers did rule them, even if they
didn’t. These supporters point out that the Soviet Union had full
employment, guaranteed housing, and universal health care. This is
compared to the unemployment and increased misery of the Russian
people today. A similar argument is made about China, which once
had the “iron rice bowl,” guaranteeing work and food for all
Chinese. This has been abandoned by the current leadership
(although the leadership remains a Communist Party, proclaims
Marxism-Leninism as its ideology, and maintains a great deal of
nationalized property--which makes it all confusing). Similar points
are made about the health care and medical coverage of Cuba. Much
of this is true--even if the Soviet Union’s jobs, health care, and
housing were pretty low-quality in practice.

Every ruling class makes a de facto DEAL with its working
population: If you let us rule, without rebellion, we will grant you
some benefits and rights, to make life livable for you. In the U.S.A.,
for example, the top bourgeoisie gets to have wealth beyond the
dreams of the emperors and pharaohs of old. They get to run society
in their interest. In return, they had provided most U.S. workers
(whites, anyway) with a fairly high standard of living, one better than
their parents had, and with a moderate degree of political democracy
and freedom. In this period, this deal has been dissolving, with a
lowering of the standard of living and a decrease in freedom. A rise
in discontent and rebelliousness may be predicted.

In the Communist-run countries, the deal was that workers got full
employment, housing, health care, education, etc. This was not as
good as in the Scandinavian social democracies (under private
capitalism), but still decent, considering their low level of
productivity. In return, the bureaucracy got to have unlimited power
and great riches for the upper crust (which lived far, far, better than
the bottom workers). This does not mean that the workers ran the
Soviet Union or run Cuba, any more than the workers run the U.S.
or the Scandinavian countries. It was a class deal.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Eastern European
states, the workers had hoped that they would get the same deal as
in Scandinavia or at least Western Europe: Germany or France, say.
Instead, they were treated as if they lived in Africa or the poorer parts
of Asia. The old bureaucrats turned bourgeoisie got very rich but the
workers and farmers got very few benefits to replace those they had
lost. Mostly they got an increase in political freedom (and not so
much of that), which is good but cannot be eaten. Naturally many
look back to the old deal with longing; at least there were jobs and
food. But this does not prove that the Soviet Union had ever been
anything but an exploitative, class-divided, totalitarian state. Nor can
all the education or medical coverage in Cuba, as valuable as that is,
make the state a workers’ democracy or Castro other than a

Class deals are not enough. The problem is that our standards are so
low. Much more than decent schooling for children and good
medical coverage is needed on a world scale if the human race is to
avoid destruction by nuclear war or ecological catastrophe. What is
needed is the vision which was demanded by the Utopian socialists,
the original Marxists, and the anarchists. Nothing less will do.
Workers’ Rule Must be Democratic
Trotskyists and others point out that capitalism may be managed by
a bourgeois-democratic state but that it also has functioned under
various forms of dictatorship, such as monarchy, police states, or
fascism. Similarly, they argue, working class rule (beginning
socialism) may be through proletarian democracy, such as the Paris
Commune or the original soviets, but it also may function under a
dictatorship. Stalin, Mao, Kim Il Sung, and Castro all are supposed
to have ruled “workers’ states,” not as good as the
Commune system, no doubt, but still maintaining working class
power, however indirectly. So they argue.

However, the analogy between capitalism and working class rule
does not hold. Capitalists rule the workers primarily through the
market. What they need from a state is protection of the market,
enforcing of contracts, repression of the workers, and some
regulation and economic intervention to keep the market on a steady
course. This is best done through a capitalist democracy, but it is not
a big problem if these tasks are carried out by some form of
dictatorship. Neither Nazi Germany nor Pinochet’s Chile
lowered capitalist profits--quite the contrary.

Unlike the capitalists (or other ruling classes, such as feudal lords or
slaveholders), today’s workers do not own private property in the
means of production. Modern workers cooperate in the process of
production, at the workplace and in society as a whole. If the
workers are to manage industry, they must do so cooperatively and
collectively. Unlike the capitalists, they cannot rely on any automatic
processes, such as the “invisible hand” of the market. They
must make conscious decisions about how the economy (and
everything else) is to be managed. They must engage in democratic
planning, a matter of deliberate, conscious, collective,
decision-making. If the working class and oppressed people are to
rule, and develop a classless, oppressionless, society, it must be
done through the most radical, thoroughgoing, participatory,
democracy. This cannot be done through any kind of elite rule, let
alone dictatorship, whether by one person or by a vanguard party.
The Bolsheviks never understood this, and modern Leninists do not
understand this now.

There is the same problem with Trotsky’s analogy between
Stalin’s “workers’ state” and a bureaucratized,
gangster-dominated, labor union. Both, he argued, are workers’
institutions, dominated by undemocratic forces, internal agents of
capitalism. Like a bad union, the Stalinist state should be defended
against the capitalists and capitalist states, while workers struggle to
take it back. This analogy also does not hold. Even a bureaucratized
union may still provide some protection for the workers against the
bosses. But the Stalinist states directly exploit and oppress the
workers. They are analogous to capitalist bosses, not to unions.

The Soviet Union and its descendants are not workers’ states,
nor post-capitalist, nor socialist, nor tending toward socialism. They
are totalitarian states with a bureaucratic ruling class and an
exploited working class. They are no alternative to capitalism.
Anti-capitalism must include the most democratic
self-management, in the tradition of libertarian socialism, or it must

[Attempts to describe the Communist Party-ruled system as a new
class society will be discussed in next month’s essay.]


Kropotkin, Peter (1975). The essential Kropotkin. (E. Capouya & K.
Tompkins, eds.). NY: Liveright.
Marx, Karl, & Engels, Friedrich (1955). The communist manifesto.
(Samuel Beer, ed.). Northbrook, IL: AHM Publishing Corp.

Written for www.Anarkismo.netature of the 'communist' states
by Wayne Price - NEFAC Tuesday, Jun 27 2006, 4:30pm
international / the left / feature
The following two essays published on Anarkismo over the last three
months by Wayne Price look at the true nature of these states.

Part 2 The Bureaucratic Ruling Class vs. Democratic
This part goes over the theories that Communist Party-ruled
societies are neither pro-socialist nor capitalist but are a new kind of
class society. These theories are correct in believing that the
collective bureaucracy is a new ruling class but wrong in denying
that these societies are a variety of capitalism. They raised questions
about the nature of Fascism. Such theories bring out the need for
participatory democracy and workers’ self-management.

Part 3 State Capitalism vs. Libertarian Socialism
The Soviet Union and similar states are analyzed as State Capitalist.
These states had commodity production, the exploitation of the
workers, and internal competition. It is not enough to collectivize
property; it is necessary to abolish the capital-labor relationship. The
program of state socialism invariably produces state capitalism in
practice. - http://www.anarkismo.net/newswire.php?story_id=3304
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