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Marginal notes on the recent
Sweezy-Bettelheim debates

The recent polemic between Paul Sweezy and Charles Bettelheim, published in Monthly Review (Vol.37, nos.3&4) is of interest since it presents the outlines of the views and the points of disagreement of the two sides in a brief and concise form, and also since it puts forward the latest deductions of "legal Marxism" of our era on the "Question of Soviet Union". It is also particularly interesting, because as compared with the debates between organised and partisan Marxist currents, the discussions of this "legal" or "university Marxism" (in distinction to organised and political Marxism) on this issue, have so far in most cases been conducted at a higher theoretical level and with a greater degree of precision and amount of concrete and factual studies.

But the present polemic is indicative of a certain theoretical and political sterility and marking time on the question of Soviet Union. In my view, from a Marxist standpoint, the debate suffers from a number of fundamental errors, both where the contending parties state their points of agreement and common suppositions; and where they bring out their major point of disagreement, i.e. the question of competition and the multiplicity of capitals in the Soviet Union. We shall here briefly refer to the outlines of these errors.

A. Incorrect Suppositions and Agreements

1) From a critique of the realities of today's Soviet society, both Sweezy and Bettelheim arrive at rejecting the socialist character of the "October Revolution, i.e., what they term the first specimen of the "revolutions of the 20th century". In their opinion, the present state of affairs in the Soviet Union is not the result of the defeat of the revolution as it developed, but is its natural, organic and positive outcome. Hence they both find it unsuitable to describe the October Revolution in terms of a "socialist revolution" and instead use the term "the revolutions of the 20th century".

There is no doubt that the relations of production in the present-day Soviet Union are not socialist, and Sweezy is quite justified in saying that the Soviet society cannot be called socialist "in the original Marxist meaning of the term". It is also true that in the October Revolution, or as Sweezy puts it, "in any of the numerous 'socialist' revolutions of the twentieth century" the course of events aid not proceed as Marx and Engels had envisaged in the Communist Manifesto. But the way in which Sweezy and Bettelheim link these observations to the character of the October Revolution is thoroughly subjectivist, academic and economist. Both interpret the matter as such:

"In every case regimes have come to power based on tightly organised revolutionary parties made up of members of various dissident population strata and under mostly non-proletarian leadership. These regimes have in fact - in the words of Marx and Engels ... - used their political supremacy 'to wrest, by degrees, all the capital from the bourgeoisie, to centralize all the instruments of production in the hands of the state.' But the state is not, as the authors of the Manifesto thought it would be, the proletariat organized as the ruling class."[1]

This "non-proletarian state" in Sweezy's view organized a newly-evolved exploitative economics, and in, Bettelheim's opinion established a kind of "party capitalism". The difference between Sweezy and Bettelheim actually centres on these very different economic interpretations. But the view shared by both of them is that this non-socialist (for Bettelheim capitalist) economy is the natural outcome of a certain Kind of political power brought about by the "revolutions of the twentieth century", i.e. regimes "based on tightly organized revolutionary parties ... and under non-proletarian leadership". The October Revolution has been such a revolution.

Here, we are faced with a subjectivist and economist understanding of the whole process of proletarian revolution and particularly of the categories of party and revolutionary workers' state. Firstly, Bettelheim's and Sweezy's description of the Bolshevik Party in the 1917 Revolution is an incorrect description. To conceive that a revolutionary proletarian party, a party which is to organise a thorough revolution against capital in the most hostile milieu of the present-day bourgeois society, can do without a "tight organization" is an intellectualist conception imbued with parliamentarian illusions. In this conception one has abstracted from the complex apparatus of repression and the whole anti-communist police system of the bourgeoisie. The "tight organization" of a proletarian party is the guarantee for its survival and for withstanding the overt police pressures and the implicit reformist and liberalist pressures of the bourgeoisie. Apart from this, to regard the Bolshevik Party as non-proletarian because it had "members of various dissident peculation strata" in its ranks or that there were revolutionaries in its leadership who did not have a working-class origin, is economism of the extreme sort. As an example, a comparison of the proletarian-internationalist attitude and practice of the Bolsheviks in the First world War and the bourgeois-nationalist stand of the bulk of the Socialist parties and workers' trade-unions, which probably enjoyed a more working-class composition than, the Bolshevik Party, reveals the emptiness of this economist argument. There is no doubt that a revolutionary party of the proletariat must be proletarian and made up of workers both in its organisational structure and its leadership; that such a party must be permanently and daily the expression of the interests and the organisational receptacle of the political manifestation of the working-class. But to date, no other political and militant organisation has ever been closer to this ideal than the Bolshevik Party itself. The Russian working class undoubtedly entered the 1917 Revolution. with its own revolutionary Party. The Bolshevik Party could have been more developed in many respects and closer to our ideal of a proletarian party, but still in its then existing form it was the party of the revolutionary proletariat of Russia. In any case, it is clear that a critique of the Russian experience cannot begin from such an overtly economist reasoning and with such intellectual expectations of a revolutionary party of the working class.

Secondly, the establishment of a state after the October Revolution, in which such a party had a central and pivotal role, not only is not per se the beginning of any deviation or defeat, or an indication of the non-socialist character of the October Revolution, but it is the inseparable part of the process of the proletarian revolution in Russia of 1917. In fact, Sweezy and Bettelheim seek the defeat of the Russian proletariat in the certain manner in which this class won its political victory. With regard to the characteristics of the state in revolutionary periods. I have already explained the matter in greater detail (refer to Besooy-e-Sosyalism no.2). But the point I must emphasize here is that this subjectivist understanding of Sweezy and Bettelheim of the material process of proletarian revolution - the process in which in the first step naturally a kind of revolutionary state of the working class must come to power- practically blocks the avenue for a real Marxist investigation of the causes underlying the final defeat of the Russian proletariat. The Russian proletariat succeeded to establish a certain form of its political power. The Bolshevik-Soviet state was a state of the working class; it was a certain and transitional form of the organisation of the working class as the ruling class. The question to be resolved now is how, under which circumstances and during which process, this particular state of the proletariat in the revolutionary period became unable to develop towards the desired form of proletarian dictatorship, i.e. "the working class organised as the ruling class" in the sense as understood by Marx and Engels.

In spite of its socialist character and in spite of the fact that as a result of it the proletariat succeeded to organise itself for a short period as the ruling class in the form of a provisional revolutionary workers' state, the October Revolution did not come to its desired end. By denying the socialist character of the October Revolution (both in respect to its aims and its class motive forces) and the proletarian character of the revolutionary state that emerged [in the aftermath of the revolution], Sweezy and Bettelheim essentially jump over the whole problematic of the final defeat of the proletarian revolution in Russia, and by-pass the real theoretical question facing today's Marxism.

Thirdly, certainly the question as to whether the October Revolution was socialist in character or not cannot be appraised on the basis of its economic and political fate 70 years after its occurrence. The observations made by Bettelheim and Sweezy about the realities of present-day Russian society, cannot by any means give grounds for the denial of the proletarian-socialist character of the October Revolution, in the same way as the deploring fate of the 1979 Revolution in Iran, can by no accounts provide a justification for the denial of its democratic and libertarian character. Just as they may end in victory, revolutions may also be defeated. The theoretical problematic of advanced thinkers of the working class is to explain the conditions, causes, and factors which led to the defeat of previous proletarian revolutions. That eventually the Russian revolution did not come to an end that "by definition" is expected of a socialist revolution, and so 'perhaps' it was not a socialist revolution, is a method of reasoning which is miles away from any valid scientific methodology. Such a method is tantamount to inverting real history in order to fit it into clew theoretical models. The October Revolution was at its own time the harbinger of the socialist transformation of society; millions of workers participated in it and of the defeat of this process, since the real history of the past can no longer be tampered with. Certainly the explanation of this process of defeat is not an easy task, but it is much harder to put together some kind of new theory of social development for our era on the basis of inventing some kind of "revolutions of the twentieth century", for which neither the causes of emergence, nor the motive forces, nor the background in the old society, nor the dynamism of movement are known or explained.

2) On the question of economics, despite their differences on the character of Soviet economy both Sweezy and Bettelheim adopt a more or less similar method of approach towards the Marxist analysis of capitalism. Both (although Bettelheim to a lesser degree and indirectly) show a restrictive understanding of Marx's comprehensive and general analysis of capitalism. Sweezy defines capitalism on the basis of two determinants 1) the labour-capital relation and 2) competition and multiplicity of capitals and then because the second determinant, i.e. competition, cannot be observed in the Soviet economy, he refuses to call the latter a capitalist country. In contrast, Bettelheim, whilst implicitly and equivocally referring to Sweezy's incorrect definition of capitalism, practically spends all his energy to prove that the relation between enterprises and production branches in Russia is of the type that exists among enterprises in Western Europe and USA and that thus competition, in the same meaning of the term that applies to the Western "classical" capitalism, also applies to the Russian economy. Sweezy regards the particular form of the historical development of capitalism in Western Europe as the sole form of capitalism. In other words he turns this historical pattern into a solid model. Bettelheim tacitly accepts this pattern (at least in this polemic), and merely attempts to demonstrate to Sweezy that this pattern corresponds with the realities of today's capitalism in Russia. Sweezy's argument is clearly opposed to Marx's theory on capitalism, but Bettelheim too practically accepts this incorrect formulation and attempts to prove a tenet which firstly does not have to be proved in order to show that Russia is a capitalist society, and secondly, taken on its own, is too schematic and exaggerated (we shall refer to this point below).

3) The political conclusions that Sweezy and Bettelheim arrive at are very different. Sweezy has a conciliatory attitude towards the Russian society and economy whilst Bettelheim sees himself opposed to present-day Russia. Despite their difference, they both limit their political conclusions to a non-class, non-political and academic field. In a sense, the main theme of these conclusions falls to the level of "Russia or USA, which one is worse?" Sweezy who sees in Russia a new mode of production and a new exploiting class which has translated capitalism, which in not by itself expansionist and which is interested in "world peace", demands that all direct their sharp edge of struggle against "world counterrevolution headed by USA". In contrast, Bettelheim revives the arguments of Chinese nationalism and resorts to a Three-Worldist interpretation of world affairs in order to vindicate that the "more dangerous", "more expansionist" and in one word "worse" superpower is Soviet Union. From the standpoint of those "who see the enormous dangers in the present; state of international relations and want to take effective actions to bring about change for the better", i.e. from the standpoint of "detênte" between" East and West", Sweezy draws the attention of his readers to the devastating pressures that western world is imposing on the Russian society, and Bettelheim feels content only to repeat the antiquated and clichéd formula of "the Soviets seek a window on the Indian Ocean." What none of them takes any notice of is the importance of an analysis of Soviet society and of the fate of the 1917 Revolution from the viewpoint of the class and international movement of the proletariat. No reference is made to the link between Soviet economy and society, and a certain pole of world revisionism. Nor is there any reference to the place of the Russian experience in the failure of communist attempts to organise a Communist International and the future of these attempts. Soviet Union is examined in the world arena as a "country", a "superpower" and as a politico-military power-which influences the world peace, and the national sovereignty of countries. But for the communist proletariat, the place that Soviet Union occupies in the balance of world powers, i.e. as a political and military power in the scene of world rivalry of the bourgeoisie, is only one side of the story. To limit the Soviet Union to this side alone is to fall to nationalist and journalistic formulations. The question of Soviet Union and the analysis of its economy and economic relations is part of the more general problem of reorganizing a genuine international proletarian-communist movement. The analysis of Soviet Union is central to any serious attempt in promoting the genuine and revolutionary cause of socialism; working out the general strategy of proletarian revolution; isolating revision-ism and building an organised movement of the world proletariat. These aspects have been entirely left out in the Bettelheim-Sweezy polemic and replaced by the common and trivial nationalist, pacifist and journalistic interpretations and preoccupations.

B. The Point of Disagreement: Multiplicity of Capitals and Competition

Sweezy insists that the existing economic relations in Russia cannot and must not be called capitalism. Since, in his opinion, capitalism is defined by two main characteristics: firstly, the existence of labour capital relations, i.e. the exploiting system of wage-labour in which there exist workers who have no owner-ship whatsoever of the means of production; and secondly, the existence of the multiplicity of capitals, and there of competition which acts as a material substratum for the operations of the internal laws of capital. Sweezy warns that to call the existing economic system in Russia capitalist, would inevitably entail an unwarranted generalization and schematization of the mode of operation of the "classical" capitalism of western Europe and USA to the Russian society; and such an attitude would create an obstacle in the way of understanding the true economic relations existing in the Russian society.

We shall later return to this argument by Sweezy, but so far as this warning directly addresses such attitudes as that of Bettelheim, it is an appropriate warning. Bettelheim's argument in proving the existence of capitalist competition and of the multiplicity and independence of capitals in the Soviet Union still remains unconvincing. To prove that there exists in the Soviet Union competition among managers of enter- I prises or among the ministries and production branches over raw materials, means of production, credit and so forth does not by itself amount to a reply to Sweezy's confusion. In every bureaucratic administrative system and in every large economic trust and enterprise, too, managers probably compete with one another over different issues, without such a competition ever implying that they have become economically so independent that one can now regard them as being the owners and managers of individual and independent capitals. The fact that the goods produced in Soviet Union are commodities does not by itself mean that they have been produced by independent and individual capitals. Nor is the lack of a national planning, or the formal character, of such a planning, taken on its own, indicative of the existence of an economic mechanism based on the operation of multiple capitals. In this case, too, Bettelheim merely proves the existence of an extensive division 1 of labour, the relative independence of production {branches from the a general plan the inability of the Soviet state to draw a genera plan and so form, and not the multiplicity of capitals in the strict sense of the term or the identity of the Soviet-type capital-ism and the western "classical" capitalism, as far as the role of competition is concerned. If Bettelheim wishes to reply to Sweezy on the basis of the incorrect supposition Sweezy puts forward for defining the characteristics of capitalism, i.e. if he really wishes to show that competition plays the same role that it does in the West European and American-type capitalism, then he is obliged to show that the multiplicity of capitals and the competition between different sections of capital is indeed the material substratum for the operation of the internal laws of the total social capital in Russia. He must demonstrate that it is through competition among the existing multiple capitals that the internal laws of capital accumulation materialize themselves. In other words, 1 he must demonstrate that the shares of the profits of the different sections of [social] capital, [the determination of] prices, the incentive for the increase in the capital to labour, ratio, the form of development of the division of labour, the manner of allocation of [social] capital and the movement of capitals in different branches of production, etc., are all dependent on the operation of this competition. Bettelheim does not show any of these, and instead provides a superficial, general and super-structural elucidation to explain the existence of competition between managers and ministers in Russia.

As a matter of fact, there is no need to prove the existence of capitals and their independence from one another in order to prove that there exists capitalism in Russia. By implicitly accepting Sweezy's schematic arid mechanical understanding of the characteristics or capitalism, Bettelheim in effect comes to a dead-end in answering Sweezy's criticisms. The debate must be pursued from where it is left off by Bettelheim i.e. from the criticism of Sweezy's incorrect definition of capitalism and its "dual" characteristics; in other words, from the criticism of the incorrect place that Sweezy gives to the question of competition and multiplicity of capitals in his analysis of capitalism. Sweezy's insistence on giving the same weight and gravity to the factor of "multiplicity of capitals and competition" as to the labour-capital relation in his definition of capitalist production is far too obstinate and unjustifiable. At best his explanations about the role of competition and of the multiplicity of capitals in capitalism are, in turn, careless. and finally; that Sweezy despite accepting and even emphasizing the existence of the labour-capital relation in the Soviet economy, refuses to call it capitalism under the pretext that he cannot observe "the multiplicity of capitals and competition" is also hard to understand. Let us examine these points one by one:

1) Sweezy is obliged to give initially a very limited and non-generalizable definition of capitalism. He writes:

"In my understanding, capitalism is the historically specific form of society that emerged in Western Europe in the fifteenth or sixteenth century and extended its dominance to most of the globe during the next three to four hundred years."[2]

On the basis of this "historically specific" form of capitalism, Sweezy expresses the major characteristics of this system, as considered by him. In this "historically Specific" form, competition and multiplicity of capitals had a vital and determining role. This economic transformation took shape along with competition, and on the basis of multiplicity of capitals and on the assumption of the existence of such factors. And thus, the multiplicity of capitals and competition turned into fundamental forms of the existence and metabolism of this mode of production. But Sweezy stops here and is not prepared to accompany Marx on the course of criticizing this "European historically specific" mode to the level of extracting the real and generalizable characteristic feature of this system. Marx, too, studied this historically specific form, along with its competition and its multiplicity of capitals, but he succeeded to define the distinctive and specific characterisations of this system at a level deeper and more abstract than the observations made about competition and multiplicity of capitals. The specific characteristic of this system is what distinguishes it from other modes of production. It is evident that every specific mode of production has its own corresponding economic categories and social relations, but what distinguishes it from other modes of production, i.e. what is characteristic of this new system, is the particular manner in which surplus production is appropriated from the direct producer. The particular characteristic of the capitalist system is the specific form in which exploitation takes place. This led Marx to explain how labour-power became a commodity and to elucidate the unity of the labour process and the process of production of surplus-value. The exploitation of wage-labour, i.e. the very "labour-capital relation" whose dominance over the Soviet economic system is recognised by Sweezy, is the distinctive feature and distinguishing characteristic of the capitalist system. Marx is so categorical in this analysis of capitalism (in Capital, Theories of Surplus-value, Grundrisse, and more or less in all of his economic writings) that Sweezy's insistence on thrusting the question of "multiplicity of capitals and competition" into the definition of capitalism as its second basic criterion seems very strange. Thus by studying the "historically specific" capitalism which Sweezy takes as the basis of his argument, Marx succeeds to analyse the general characteristic of capitalism and break down this "historically specific" framework.

2) But the important point is that even in Marx's analysis of the same specific capitalism of the Europe of the 18th and 19th centuries, competition and the multiplicity of capitals do not hold the weight and place that Sweezy imparts to them. Marx introduces the question of competition and the multiplicity of capitals at their correct place, i.e. at an appropriate level of abstraction. Sweezy is insistent on introducing this factor at the same fundamental level of abstraction, i.e. at the level where the most general characteristics and specificities of the capitalist system are investigated. It is interesting that even Sweezy's own quotations of Marx on competition and the multiplicity of capitals invalidate his reasoning. Marx introduces the question of the multiplicity and competition of capitals at a more concrete level of analysis. In order to deduce and prove the general laws of capitalist production, i.e. in order to explain surplus-value, the exploitation of labour-power, the value of labour power and wages, the reserve army of labour, the accumulation and increase of the organic composition of capital, the enlarged reproduction of total social capital, and even the law of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall, Marx finds no need to involve the question of the multiplicity of capitals and the factor of competition. Marx deduces these laws from his general suppositions about the total social capital and the general and typical nature of capital, and only after deducing the fundamental laws of capitalism and of capital accumulation, does he proceed to a more concrete analysis of the internal relations of multiple capitals with respect to each other and of the particular form in which the general laws of the capitalist system actualize. In other words, from the analytical point of view, Marx analyzes the fundamental laws of motion of capitalism and the basic characteristics of this system independently of the factor of multiplicity of capitals and competition. It is only then that he deals with this concrete factor in order to explain the way in which these laws actualize in the routine operation of capitalist production. It is at this more concrete level, that by introducing the question of multiplicity of the owners of the means of production (multiplicity of capitals) Marx step by step transcends from surplus-value to the more concrete categories of profit, interest, commercial profit, and rent, and from the category of value to the prices of production and so on.

On the question of competition, Marx has clearly, though briefly, explained the place of this relation in his analysis [of capitalism]. Competition is that real relation among different capitals which imposes the general laws of capitalist production, the laws of whole system, i.e. the internal laws of the whole social capital, on the units of capital and makes these laws perceptible to them. Competition is that particular relation through which the immanent and general laws of capitalism are generally translated into material, practical and external pressures over the units of capital. Competition is a relation in which the inherent laws of capital are materialized and actualized.

Historically, competition was the precondition for the emergence and predominance of capitalist production, since this was the manner through which capital could tear down the carriers to its movement, i.e., the barriers which were placed on its way by the old forms of production including the guild system (Grundrisse, English translation, pp.649-50). Up to here, competition is the historical condition for the emergence of capital and not an analytical condition for its existence and its characteristic feature.

But Marx goes further and also analyzes the place and role of competition in the capitalist system itself, i.e. within the framework of the established relations of capitalism. Competition is the confrontation and opposition of capital with itself, i.e. as another capital. Competition is the concrete operation of capital:

"Free competition is the real development of capital. By its means, what corresponds to the nature of capital is posited as external necessity for the individual capital; what corresponds to the concept of capital, is posited as external necessity for the mode of production founded on capital."[3]

"So much is this the case that the most profound economic thinkers, such as e.g. Ricardo, presuppose the absolute predominance of free competition in order to able to study and to formulate the adequate laws of capital - which appear at the same time as the vital tendencies governing over it."[4]

To "presuppose" competition in order to study the economic laws of capitalism is precisely the mistake that both Bettelheim and Sweezy commit, not since competition has not been the inseparable part of capitalism, as it developed historically, and not because it does not have a central role in this respect, but since the laws of capital have originated from the essence of capital, from the concept of capital and its general character. Multiplicity of capitals and competition is the substratum for the operation of these laws in the real relations of real capitals.

"Competition merely expresses as real, posits as an external necessity, that which lies within the nature of capital; competition is nothing more than the way in which the many capitals force the inherent determinants of capital upon one another and upon themselves.[5]

One of the most manifest examples of this relation is the inherent tendency of capital for accumulation and increase in its organic (value and technical) composition curing the process of accumulation. Capital ceaselessly augments the volume of constant capital in comparison to the volume of variable capital. Marx deduces this law from the general analysis of the total social capital, independently of the question of competition and multiplicity of capitals but in the real world, this law forces itself onto the units of capital through the channel of competition. The capital which wishes to remain in the sphere of competition is obliged to add continuously to its capital/labour ratio and increase the ratio of its constant to variable capital (and along with it improves its productivity). This law has not emanated from competition, and analytically speaking, does not need the existence of many capitals and their competition. But the material substratum and the channel for the actualization of this law, i.e. its transformation into an external force for individual capitals, is competition.

So what is certain is that not only competition is not, in the study of the specific characteristics of the capitalist system, a category and a determinant of the same weight as the labour-capital relation, not only does it not stand at the same level of abstraction as the latter, but it is merely (and this "merely" is not intended to make competition appear less important) the agent and the substratum for the actualization and externalization, of the inherent and internal laws of capital which according to Marx's definition and analyses became relevant and emerged, analytically, prior, to competition.

Nevertheless, there is no doubt that firstly competition is the "classic" form for the actualization of the inherent laws of capital. Secondly, been the historically inevitable form for the domination of the laws of capitalist production, and thirdly, at least as far as it is relevant to the operation of capitalism as it has developed in Western Europe it is a vital factor. Any Marxist analysis of the Soviet society, too, which does not intend to follow the dogmatic manner in which Bettelheim attempts to prove the existence and predominance of the "classic" form of competition and the multiplicity of capitals in this society, must endeavour to explain which material mechanism or mechanisms practically force the inherent necessities and the laws of the process of capital accumulation as external and perceptible necessities on the capitalist class and its different sections in this country. We shall return to this subject further down, but here it is appropriate to refer to an interesting point. In. the continuation of his discussion in the Grundrisse, Marx has in a way foreseen our today's problematic:

"As long as capital is weak, it still itself relies on the crutches of past modes of production, or of those which will pass with its rise. As soon as it feels strong, it throws away the crutches, and. moves in accordance with its own laws. As soon as it begins to sense itself and become conscious of itself as a barrier to development, it seeks refuge in forms which, by restricting free competition, seem to make the rule of capital more perfect, but are at the same time the heralds of its dissolution and of the dissolution of the mode of production resting on it".[6]

The fact is that capitalism of our era is living through this very last stage. Capital's "seeking refuge" to other forms apart from competition is not exclusive to the Soviet capitalism, although the restraints over competition in this country are at their highest level. In USA, Britain, France, Scandinavia and the whole economic geography in which Sweezy's "historically specific" capitalism took shape, too, competition is today no longer the only form through which the inherent laws of capital are manifested before units of capital as external necessities. State, state policies and rules, as well as the dealing and wheeling by the monopolies, confront the units of capital - at least at the national level - with the needs and necessities of the accumulation of the whole social capital through variegated forms other than and in addition to competition (within the boundaries of a single country). In other words, today it is not through competition alone that capital comes to a head with and confronts itself as capital. The states, on the basis of predetermined economic policies (even if as a result of the need to compete on a world scale, to which Russia is also more or less subordinated) have now to a large extent taken the responsibility of behaving as the representatives and the spokesmen for the whole social capital and the general conditions of capital accumulation. The relation of the capital units with the state is some kind of a confrontation between the units of capital and the objective external necessities that arise out of the essence of capital, the total capital. This relation can no longer be explained merely within the framework of competition. The daily increasing role of the states, the withdrawal of ever greater snare of the actual operation of capital from the sphere of competition and its transfer to the reaches of capital's state decision making (whether as in planning or as in fiscal and monetary policies) have apparently made the rule of capital "more perfect", but, just as Marx points out, they have also become the heralds of the dissolution and the expression of the chronic and inherent crisis of the capitalism of our era.

However, Sweezy's "second basic criterion" for defining capitalism is not only superfluous and incorrect, but is already being knocked down step by step in the practical process of the contemporary development of the same "historically specific" capitalism. The problem faced by Marxists in explaining the characteristics of capitalism in Russia, is .not the demonstration of the existence and the dominance of competition and the multiplicity of capitals, but one of explaining the material and actual operation of capital in a capitalist system in which for certain historical reasons, competition has not played the same identical role that it played in the classical development of capitalism, either in the process of its definite establishment, or in its boom, or in its present-day operation. This is the criticism one can make of the schematic short-sightedness of Bettelheim. But despite the-restraints forced upon the role of competition in Soviet capitalism, the economic relations in the Soviet Union are still capitalistic by virtue of the very existence of the wage-labour relation, i.e. the labour-capital relation. And this is our critique of and difference with the subjectivist, and just as schematic, thesis of Sweezy.

3) It is possible that the discussion is continued at a more abstract level. It may be said that without the multiplicity of capitals and hence competition, the very existence of exchange-value (which presupposes the existence of multiple owners of commodities), money, the commodity-form of products, price, and forms of profit, interest and commercial profit will be abolished and from the analytical point of view it will be impossible for them to exist. Is it not true that although in almost the-whole of the first and the second volumes of capital Marx analyzes capitalism without referring to the question of the multiplicity of capitals, he nevertheless begins his reasoning from such categories as commodity, exchange-value, and money?

Sweezy does not put forward such an argument since he does not basically present any kind of reasoning in defence of his "second basic criterion" for defining capitalism. It is interesting to note that it is Bettelheim who links the existence of the commodity - form of products and the existence of profit - in distinction to surplus-value - in Russia, to the question of the multiplicity of capitals. However, it is also necessary to give a brief answer to this reasoning.

There is no doubt that multiplicity in the ownership of commodities (and means of production) was the historical precondition for the emergence of capital-ism, and competition was the practical substratum for its predominance over antecedent forms of production. But Marx's whole argument was that once capitalism relies on its own laws, it severs its relation with these historical prerequisites. Exchange-value and the commodity form of products, then, acquire their own independent existence and thence are no longer dependent on the permanent existence and metabolism of many owners of products, but rely on the relation between labour and capital. Here, it is no longer the multiplicity of capitals which objectively necessitates exchange-value, but the fact that all of what are produced are the proceeds of the capitalist labour-process in which labour has become a commodity and must inevitably exchange itself directly with the means of production (the means of production which belong to a definite and limited part of the society and thus in order to become operational they, too, must be exchanged). It is the commodity character of labour and its alienation from the means of production that imparts to all the products of labour a commodity character in the capitalist production. So long as the exchange between the owners of labour-power (as a commodity) and the owners of the means of production has not been abolished, the whole foundation of exchange, exchange-value, money and generalized commodity-production remains intact, whether or not the owners of the means of production have scaled down the exchanges between themselves. Historically, labour-power became a commodity after the means of production and the means of consumption had been turned into commodity. But once this historical event has happened, i.e. labour-power has become a commodity and is exchanged with capital, from then on, it is the labour-power itself which turns into the material basis for the generalized commodity-production and all the categories and relations corresponding to it. The very existence of the labour-capital relation in the Soviet Union by itself makes it necessary and .inevitable that the commodity-forms of products; money, the value form and the monetary form of estimation of commodities and the appropriation of surplus-value in the specific form of "profit" survive. These forms are historically the result of multiplicity in the private ownership of the means of production, but from the point of view of analysis, [their existence] in the capitalist production is wholly the result of the commodity character of labour, even where the multiplicity of capitals and competition is thoroughly valid.

To sum up, Bettelheim's reasoning about the multiplicity of capitals and competition in the Soviet Union remain schematic and unconvincing. In the same manner, his analysis of recurring crises and fluctuations in Soviet economy, and the "over-accumulation" in this economy is superficial and super-structural. For instance, Bettelheim explains the mechanism of "over-accumulation" on the basis of the "decisions of enterprise managers" that employ excessive amounts of capital, raw materials and labour power in order to promote their own positions or that of their enterprises or to fulfil targets fixed in the plan. In analyzing the roots of Soviet expansionism, Bettelheim is even unable to present a coherent discussion on the matter and considers this expansion ism to be in continuity with Tsarist imperial expansionism. Pointing out Soviet Union's attempts to "seek a window on the Indian Ocean" and "to also establish itself as a maritime power" can hardly be taken as a serious analysis for the elucidation of the bases of expansionism of the present-day modern and capitalist Russia. Such superficial analyses which make Bettelheim's discussions very much resemble the cheap "Three-worldist" and nationalist analyses, are not too few in his recent article.

In comparison with Bettelheim's, the specificity of Sweezy's position is his subjectivism and theoretical eclecticism, and this is evidently the common grounds and feature of all the defendants of the "new mode of production" thesis. Firstly, as was mentioned, to accept the dominance of capital and wage-labour in a system and to regard it at the same time a "new mode of production" is far too arbitrary and careless. Sweezy does not pay any heed to the fact that the new-mode-of-production thesis necessitates an overall revision of the Marxist materialist and historical outlook. One cannot merely add or supplement this thesis alone to the Marxist critique of capitalism and the theory of proletarian revolution. One, who "discovers" a new mode of production between capitalism and socialism, must also logically undertake the scientific task of presenting the remaining part of the system of thinking that corresponds to such a thesis. Many questions are placed before the defendants of this thesis, such as: in what forms had the economic, political, cultural and organisational components and parts that constitute this new mode of production been bred and matured in the old (capitalist) system? (A new social and economic-system cannot appear on the globe suddenly and without any prehistory). Does it mean that capitalism no longer the last class economic formation and the last and the most generalized form of class exploitation? With such a presumption, which class and social struggles, which objective contradictions and which objective historical processes drive the capitalist society towards this new mode of production? Is there any materialistic analysis of the contradictions of this new mode of production so that one can still infer the necessity and the possibility of a later transformation of [such a j society into socialism? Which of the material contradictions of the existing society is resolved by this new mode of production and which contradictions are thrusted forward; which political and cultural problems of capitalist society find their solutions in this very new mode of production so that their solution will no longer be the task of the proletarian revolution? What is the mechanism for the production and the reproduction for the economic and social relations of this new mode of production? Does not the existence of this new mode of production mean that the theory of proletarian revolution (the necessity and possibility of socialist revolution) and the relation of this revolution to the emancipation of mankind ought to be rejected? Does the emergence of a new mode of production not mean that new forms of class struggle have superceded the struggle of the proletariat and the bourgeoisie, as the motive forces of the social history of mankind? And should we not revise from now the theory of class struggle in the interest of drawing into it the role of strata that are the material foundations of this new system of exploitation? There is no end to these questions and contradictions. Marx's historical materialism and theory of proletarian revolution, of which a part consists of the recognition of capitalism as the last form of class organisation of human society, has in its system of thinking detailed answers for all these problematics. Those who defend the new mode of production thesis must, too, be able to present a convincing and comprehensive system. Secondly, the problem is that Sweezy is essentially also unable to characterize this mode of production. (Inspired by an article by Magdoff in the same issue of Monthly Review) he believes that in the Soviet economic system there exist no objective economic laws, i.e. laws which are independent of the policy and inclinations of the economic and political functionaries of the ruling class. In other words, the operation of Soviet economy is continuously a function of the decisions, policies and interests of the ruling class over which no sub-structural necessity dominates. This cannot be taken as a definition for the "mode of production". This is a declaration for the absence of a mode of production in Soviet Union and the existence of a new arbitrary and changing economic order in this country. Thus it seems that after several years of ambiguity and hesitation, Sweezy has finally found himself in concordance with the empty and non-materialistic views of Hillel Ticktin the editor of the Critique Journal. Perhaps the two 'differ in that Ticktin is more o f f the mark and instead of the category of mode of production, talks about the domination of "the economy of wastage", in Soviet Union. Sweezy forgets that the very existence of the labour-capital relation in Russia (which he has accepted), or even the existence of some kind of property relations (over the means of production), is necessarily tantamount to the existence of objective economic laws which emanate from these relations, and reproduce them. When Sweezy declares that "economic laws" are absent in this new mode of production, it means that the very labour-capital relation is also absent in Russia -a matter conceded by Sweezy in the beginning of his article. Thirdly, Sweezy's views contrast completely the warning he had himself given to Bettelheim. Sweezy was worried that a schematization of capitalism (i.e., the same "historically specific" capitalism) could prevent one from understanding the specific and varied economic characteristics of the Soviet society. But at a later stage, he himself abandons the reader in an absolute lawlessness, in an economic "system" devoid of any kind of objective laws of motion and operation. A system which swings, or could swing, daily in a new direction depending on the predilections and the policies of the "ruling class", or of the "bureaucracy" or the "experts". Frightened of schematism, Sweezy entirely relinquishes the essence of science, materialism and Marxism and-seeks refuge in the realm of "prognostication", guessing and speculation about aims-in-themselves and the unlimited possibilities of the "ruling classes" in Russia-and this is subjectivism par excellance.

* * * * *

The communist movement needs a correct analysis of the, economic relations predominant in Soviet Union. The recent Sweezy-Bettelheim debate not only does not pave the way in this direction, but to a large extent creates ambiguities- and confusions. The proof of the domination of labour-capital relation in the Soviet Union is sufficient for vindicating that this system is capitalistic. But from the fact that the Soviet economy is capitalistic it cannot and must not be inferred that those concrete determinants which hold true for the characteristics of the "classical" capitalism of Western Europe and of the USA (such as competition and personal ownership of the bourgeois over capital) can be identically or more or less similarly observed in the Soviet Union. In Soviet Union, a certain kind of state monopoly capitalism has taken shape under specific historical circumstances, particularly during the process of' the defeat of a proletarian revolution, which operates under the name of socialism. The point is that we must re-discover the particular forms of motion and material operation of this capitalism and also find out those particular economic mechanisms and structures through which the general laws of capitalism are imposed [on the Soviet society]. For instance, in countries such as Soviet Union personal bourgeois ownership has been severely debased and more or less merged into a class collective ownership and control. Along with these developments, all those practical mechanisms which relied on the personal character of ownership and the individual independence of the owners of capital have lost their pivotal roles. This is a system in which competition has been driven to the margins and a definite kind of regulation for the internal relationships of the bourgeoisie has acquired priority and relevance through a political and administrative mechanism. Such a system demonstrated its efficiency in the advancement and acceleration of the initial process of Russian industrialization in the .1930s. But today, in contrast, it has exhibited its organic inability in meeting the economic needs of advanced capitalism, particularly with respect to providing consumer goods, flexibility in investment, the introduction of new technology and improvement in the quality of the goods produced. In this system, the form of the relation between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat, the specific form in which crises emerge, the mechanism of distribution of surplus-value among different sections of social capital, and similar points, possess their own specific peculiarities. Marxist analysis must deepen its critique of the monopoly capitalism of the Soviet-type. A mechanistic and schematic generalization of observations concerning the operation of "classical" capitalism or the invention of carelessly and arbitrarily drawn-up theories about a "new mode of production" and so on, cannot provide' a principled orientation for the Marxist study of present-day Soviet Union.

Mansoor Hekmat
March 1986


[1] Paul Sweezy, Monthly Review, Vol. 37, no. 3, July-August 1985.

[2] Paul Sweezy, Monthly Review, Vol. 37, no. 4, September-October 1985

[3] Karl Marx, Grundrisse, English translation pp. 650 & 651

[4] Ibid. p. 651, emphasis in the original

[5] Ibid. p. 651

[6] Ibid. p. 651

The above article has been taken from the first issue of the CPI bulletin "Marxism and the Question of Soviet Union" (March 86), which is published as a supplement to the theoretical organ of the CPI.
Bolshevik Message, No.10, July 1987 #2740en