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New Left Review I/196, November-December 1992

Simon Clarke

Privatization and the Development of Capitalism in Russia

The almost universal assumption, at all points of the political spectrum, is that Russia is in the throes of a painful transition to capitalism. [1] Boris Kagarlistsky, ‘Russia on the Brink of New Battles’, and Ken Livingstone, ‘Can Democracy Survive in Russia’, nlr 192, March–April 1992, pp. 85–104. Privatization is seen as the key to this transition, and resistance to privatization is accordingly seen by the Western Left as the essential basis of a progressive politics seeking to salvage something from the debris of the collapse of the Soviet system. In this article I want to question all three of these assumptions. [2] This article is based primarily on research on labour organization in enterprises in Russia which I have been carrying out with Peter Fairbrother, funded by the esrc and the University of Warwick Research and Innovations Fund. A longer version will appear in Simon Clarke et al., What About the Workers?, Verso, London, forthcoming 1993. In addition to my many informants, I am particularly grateful to Peter Fairbrother, Michael Burawoy, Don Filtzer, Vadim Borisov, Pavel Krotov, Vladimir Ilyin and Petr Biziukov. The fundamental error underlying the conventional interpretation is its implicit identification of the development of a market and the privatization of the enterprise with the development of capitalism. To understand the dynamics of the transformation of the Soviet mode of production we have to look behind juridical and political changes to the development of the social relations of production. It remains an open question whether the dynamics of this development determine a transition to capitalism, but this transition will not be determined by the relatively superficial changes which have taken place so far, but by the development of class struggles over the social relations of production. [3] This article is only concerned with privatization in Russia, although the issues involved are general to the former Soviet bloc as a whole. For doubts about the prospects for capitalist development in Hungary, the East European country in which capitalism is most developed, see Michael Burawoy, ‘A View from Production: The Hungarian Transition from Socialism to Capitalism’, in Chris Smith and Paul Thompson, eds., Labour in Transition, London 1992; David Stark, ‘Privatisation in Hungary: From Plan to Market or from Plan to Clan’, East European Politics and Societies, vol. 4,no. 3, 1990, pp. 351–92.

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