Defending the theory of state capitalism

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Roger van Zwanenberg's criticism of the theory of state capitalism to describe the USSR raises the question of what we mean by socialism today (Feedback, Socialist Review, December 2009).

He argues the USSR was "part socialist" because workers received certain benefits from the state. But such benefits are perfectly compatible with capitalism - capital needs the workforce educated and healthy enough to be exploited.

Russian workers also faced continual attacks on living standards as Russia competed with other capitalist states. In 1988, the Izvestia newspaper revealed that relative health spending in the Soviet Union ranked between 60th and 70th in the world, while in infant mortality it was 50th and in life expectancy 32nd.

At the heart of the socialism the SWP envisions for the future, and fights for today, is a simple principle - the self-emancipation of the working class. A socialist society is about a radical extension of democracy into the workplace and everyday life - real liberation. In no real sense did the Russian working class have control over their labour or their lives after the late 1920s.

Russia was not a workers' paradise but neither was it uniquely oppressive. It was a class society based on exploitation, albeit organised through the state.

Understanding this is crucial in order to clarify what we are fighting for today.

John Maunder
London