there’s essentially three different versions of the state capitalism thesis:
- the anarchist/left-communist version which believes that the party quickly became a new exploiting class and an elite and thus the ussr was state-capitalist almost from the start
- the cliffite version which believes that the ussr was socialist until the rise of stalin, when a bureaucratic class apparently took over the state and thus it became state-capitalist
- the maoist/”hoxhaist” version which believes that the ussr was socialist either until it became revisionist in 1956 or so, OR that it became state-capitalist with the passing of the kosygin reform in 1965 which is supposed to have abolished central planning. this was the version i clung to for a long time
versions 2 and 3 claim to stem from a marxist analysis, which from the start means they have to heavily revise the traditional marxist definition of capitalism. capitalism as a system is many-sided and requires circulation and competition to exist, and its that competition and circulation which creates many of the objective laws of capitalism - the boom/bust cycle, immiseration, centralization etc. so to hold that the ussr was capitalist is to say that it was a capitalist social formation that somehow overcame all the contradictions of capitalism, because there was only one capitalist - the state. it’s actually very similiar to the kautskyite theory of ultraimperialism, which was derided for being revisionist by lenin, but i mean, you have to chuck out capital vol.2 and 3 completely, and good chunks of capital vol.1 to maintain this kind of analysis of capitalism as a system.
its true that lenin did speak of state capitalism as a set of relations of production, but it was specifically in reference to actual capitalists who were to a large extent under the control of the state during the NEP period. state capitalism exists in capitalist countries in the form of nationalized companies which nevertheless are run along capitalist lines, for example coal and the railways in britain from the 1940s until the 1980s/90s. state capitalism is only ever a supplement to an existing mode of production, whether that be private capitalism or socialism (as it was during the NEP)
the definition of capitalism as a system, as used in classical marxist literature, is always labour-power as a commodity, and that wasn’t clearly evident in the ussr, prc etc. either, because it was effectively impossible for SOEs to fire people, and there was no real labour market in existence, no unemployment etc. and the arguments of all three versions that labour markets did exist tend to focus on unimportant similiarities in form, rather than on the essence of how labour-power functioned in the soviet union.
the state capitalism thesis is ultraleft in that it conjures an extreme and ahistorical definition of capitalism as a means of critiquing an imperfect socialism.
Let’s be real here, though. It was a very imperfect socialism.