Date: Fri, 10 Mar 1995 23:02:38 -0500 (EST)
/* Written by workers in igc:workers.news */
/* Written by greenleft@peg.UUCP in igc:greenleft.news */
We must break the power of big capital
By Boris Kagarlitsky, Green Left Weekly, 10 March 1995
BORIS KAGARLITSKY is a former deputy in the Moscow City Soviet, a leading member of Russian Party of Labour and author of several books about socialism after the fall of the Stalinist regimes in eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. He writes regularly for Green Left Weekly. In the early 1980s, he was jailed for 13 months for publishing an underground socialist journal. Kagarlitsky will be a featured speaker at the Democratic Socialist Party's Marxist Educational Conferences at Easter. While in Budapest recently, GLW's NORM DIXON asked Kagarlitsky to discuss his views on some of the debates in the international socialist movement today.
Socialists must again assert the fundamentals of traditional socialist politics, Kagarlitsky declared as we began our discussion. Just prior to our interview, he had been locked in a good-natured but serious debate with Robin Blackburn of New Left Review over whether socialists should abandon the goals of state power, nationalisation and a planned economy, in favour of support for cooperatives and other "counter-market" initiatives, and greater democracy in the workplace and society.
Kagarlitsky was also smarting that many on the left who counterpose strengthening "civil society" and "deepening democracy" to taking state power, feel arguments presented in his books support their positions.
"Marxists have always argued not just for more state involvement in the economy but connected it with the need to transform the state itself. That is what makes Marxists different from social democrats.
"State interventionism is not by definition `leftist'. What makes us leftists is that we combine the idea of state interventionism with the goal of changing the state so it will be a different sort of state, intervening in the economy in a very different way.
"I am afraid it is this - the strongest point of Marxism - which is now often being abandoned", Kagarlitsky lamented.
Socialists also need to reassert that public ownership is a prerequisite for fundamental change. "We must undermine the domination of private property, thus nationalise it. We will never be successful in changing the state structure unless we change the functions of the state. The state has to take responsibility for production, for development of the economy.
"The state must take care of investment, for example. Direct investment must be for the benefit of everybody. There should be democratic control over state decision making in investment. That can be done only inside public sector enterprises.
"The extension of public enterprise can be very important in transforming the state itself, because the tasks, the functions and the responsibilities of the state change. The people will then demand a particular type of state institution capable of providing proper railways, proper highways, proper jobs and so on. They can control that in a very tough way because it is very concrete."
Socialists cannot afford to overlook the class nature of the state, Kagarlitsky warned. "Many new left theorists are very enthusiastic about new forms of municipal economy and new forms of co-ops and other grassroots initiatives. The debate is not whether you are in favour of or against these grassroots initiatives. On the contrary, I 100% approve of them.
"But these initiatives will simply not work unless you break the power of big capital. Small-scale, individual, collective and municipal enterprises can be subordinated to big capital or be protected by the public sector. The level of exploitation in the grassroots economy, or informal economy, very often is much worse under capitalism than in the traditional capitalist industrial economy. The level of freedom in decision making there is low because the general economic rules are established, not only by the so-called objective laws of the market, but by the decision makers in the big capitalist firms.
"I am not against the left taking such initiatives. That is the right thing to do when they are in power in a particular place and can use that opportunity. But it must be understood that it simply cannot expand beyond that. It is ghettoised by the ruling elite.
"For socialists, the only real way to change things in the direction we want, is not only to expand public sector enterprises but to nationalise the private sector, at least in particular areas we consider crucial, to break the possibility of big capital establishing the rules."
Nationalisation has to be sensible, says Kagarlitsky. "You cannot nationalise shoe-shiners and you shouldn't. If you try, you will end up without clean shoes. On the other hand, private ownership of software - of ideas - is a crazy concept. You cannot turn information into a commodity. Each time they try, the capitalist system suppresses the development of the modern communication system. It is a classic case of productive relations becoming an obstacle to the development of the productive forces, just as Marxist theory contends.
"We have an economy in every country where on the top you have a very sophisticated, modern, scientific sector which already should and can be managed through communist methods.
"What is the difference between what I am advocating and the traditional social democratic concept of a mixed economy? The social democratic concept was a regulationist, interventionist state which, in a paternalistic way, intervened in the private economy to help it resolve its problems. It sometimes used public sector enterprise in a supportive role for the private sector.
"What we are dreaming about is a democratically coordinated economy. Without public enterprise as the core of the economy, coordination will simply not emerge. In certain countries, there are a lot of public enterprises already; the neo-liberals want to destroy them. We must say we don't want only to defend them; we have to restructure them for a new purpose."
Kagarlitsky was very sceptical about notions of "co-determination" and "social partnership" being useful within capitalism. "Our Russian experience is very clear. When there is a public sector enterprise, or an enterprise which depends on public decision making, some kind of social partnership can work in favour of the workers, because their power depends on the institutional set-up and the social and economic factors involved.
"But if an enterprise is totally dependent on the banks to provide money, you can have a board 100% workers and nevertheless they will not be able to make any positive decisions for the workers. In this case, the less workers have a role in these co-decision-making bodies, the better."
Kagarlitsky also addressed the pursuit of democracy within capitalism. "Capitalist democracy is possible. The problem is whether we are satisfied just with this level of democracy or want more. In certain countries, like Russia, capitalist democracy is not even possible. The Russian democratic experiment has collapsed into a limited authoritarian regime.
"So you either go, as happened in 1917, beyond traditional Western-style capitalist democracy, or you get, at best, some kind of moderate, soft, authoritarian regime with certain possibilities for people to participate in politics at a very restricted level. In countries like Russia and South Africa, people have to be prepared to go beyond traditional bourgeois democracy. You either go further or you go back."
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