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State capitalism is usually described as an economic system in which commercial (i.e. for-profit) economic activity is undertaken by the state, with management and organization of the means of production in a capitalist manner, including the system of capital accumulation, wage labor, and centralized management. This designation applies to economies regardless of the political aims of the state, even if the state is nominally socialist. State capitalism is characterized by the dominance of state-owned business enterprises in the economy. Examples of state capitalism include corporatized government agencies (agencies organized along corporate and business management practices) and states that own controlling shares of publicly listed corporations (acting as a shareholder). State capitalism is usually used as criticism of states that named themselves socialist; for instance, someone could argue that the Soviet Union did not establish socialism, but rather established state capitalism. This criticism usually comes from communists, Marxists, and other kinds of socialists.
State capitalism has also come to refer to an economic system where the means of production are owned privately but the state has considerable control over the allocation of credit and investment, as in the case of France during the period of dirigisme. Alternatively, state capitalism may be used (sometimes interchangeably with state monopoly capitalism) to describe a system where the state intervenes in the economy to protect and advance the interests of large-scale businesses. This practice is often claimed to be in contrast with the ideals of both socialism and laissez-faire capitalism.
There are various theories and critiques of state capitalism, some of which have existed before the 1917 October Revolution. The common themes among them are to identify that the workers do not meaningfully control the means of production and that commodity relations and production for profit still occur within state capitalism. Vladimir Lenin notably described the economy of Russia as state capitalism. Socialists of a libertarian or anarchist persuasion, such as Noam Chomsky, use the term "state capitalism" to refer to economies that are nominally capitalist, such that the decisive research and development is performed by the public sector at public cost, but private owners reap the profits.
Marxist literature typically defines state capitalism as a social system combining capitalism—the wage system of producing and appropriating surplus value—with ownership or control by a state. By that definition, a state capitalist country is one where the government controls the economy and essentially acts like a single huge corporation, extracting the surplus value from the workforce in order to invest it in further production. Friedrich Engels, in Socialism: Utopian and Scientific, argued that state ownership does not do away with capitalism by itself, but rather would be the final stage of capitalism, consisting of ownership and management of large-scale production and communication by the bourgeois state. Yet, the tools for ending capitalism are found in state capitalism, he said.
Some even use the term to refer to capitalist economies such that the state provides substantial public services and regulation of business activity. This could refer to several ideologies ranging from social liberalism and social democracy to fascism. The term is also used by some in reference to a private capitalist economy controlled by a state, often meaning a privately owned economy that is subject to statist economic planning. In the 1930s, Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini said that were Fascism to conform itself to modern capitalism, it would end up as being "state socialism turned on its head". This term was often used to describe the controlled economies of the great powers in the First World War.
The term itself was in use within the socialist movement from the late 19th century onwards. Wilhelm Liebknecht in 1896 said: "Nobody has combatted State Socialism more than we German Socialists; nobody has shown more distinctively than I, that State Socialism is really State capitalism!" 
It has been suggested[by whom?] that the concept of state capitalism can be traced back to Mikhail Bakunin's critique during the First International of the potential for state exploitation under Marxist-inspired socialism, or to Jan Waclav Machajski's argument in The Intellectual Worker (1905) that socialism was a movement of the intelligentsia as a class, resulting in a new type of society he termed state capitalism. For anarchists, state socialism is equivalent to state capitalism, hence oppressive and merely a shift from private capitalists to the state being the sole employer and capitalist.
During World War I, using Vladimir Lenin's idea that Czarism was taking a "Prussian path" to capitalism, the Bolshevik Nikolai Bukharin identified a new stage in the development of capitalism, in which all sectors of national production and all important social institutions had become managed by the state; he termed this new stage 'state capitalism.' 
After the October Revolution, Lenin used the term positively. In spring 1918, during a brief period of economic liberalism prior to the introduction of war communism, and again during the New Economic Policy (NEP) of 1921, Lenin justified the introduction of state capitalism controlled politically by the dictatorship of the proletariat to further central control and develop the productive forces:
State capitalism would be a step forward as compared with the present state of affairs in our Soviet Republic. If in approximately six months’ time state capitalism became established in our Republic, this would be a great success and a sure guarantee that within a year socialism will have gained a permanently firm hold.
Lenin argued the state should temporarily run the economy, which would eventually be taken over by workers. To Lenin "state capitalism" did not mean the state would run most of the economy, but that "state capitalism" would be one of five elements of the economy.
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This claim would become standard in anarchist works. For example, the prominent anarchist Emma Goldman in an article from 1935 titled "There Is No Communism in Russia" said of the USSR: "Such a condition of affairs may be called state capitalism, but it would be fantastic to consider it in any sense Communistic...Soviet Russia, it must now be obvious, is an absolute despotism politically and the crassest form of state capitalism economically".
Murray Bookchin, when speaking about Marxism said that "Marxism, in fact, becomes ideology. It is assimilated by the most advanced forms of state capitalist movement — notably Russia. By an incredible irony of history, Marxian “socialism” turns out to be in large part the very state capitalism that Marx failed to anticipate in the dialectic of capitalism. The proletariat, instead of developing into a revolutionary class within the womb of capitalism, turns out to be an organ within the body of bourgeois society...Lenin sensed this and described “socialism” as “nothing but state capitalist monopoly made to benefit the whole people.” This is an extraordinary statement if one thinks out its implications, and a mouthful of contradictions."
The authors of An Anarchist FAQ, while speaking about leninism say that "Rather than present an effective and efficient means of achieving revolution, the Leninist model is elitist, hierarchical and highly inefficient in achieving a socialist society. At best, these parties play a harmful role in the class struggle by alienating activists and militants with their organisational principles and manipulative tactics within popular structures and groups. At worse, these parties can seize power and create a new form of class society (a state capitalist one) in which the working class is oppressed by new bosses (namely, the party hierarchy and its appointees)."
Another early analysis the USSR as state capitalist came from various groups advocating left communism. One major tendency of the 1918 Russian communist left criticised the re-employment of authoritarian capitalist relations and methods of production. As Ossinsky in particular argued, "one-man management" (rather than the democratic factory committees workers had established and Lenin abolished) and the other impositions of capitalist discipline would stifle the active participation of workers in the organisation of production; Taylorism converted workers into the appendages of machines, and piece work imposed individualist rather than collective rewards in production so instilling petty bourgeois values into workers. In sum these measures were seen as the re-transformation of proletarians within production from collective subject back into the atomised objects of capital. The working class, it was argued, had to participate consciously in economic as well as political administration. This tendency within the 1918 left communists emphasized that the problem with capitalist production was that it treated workers as objects. Its transcendence lay in the workers' conscious creativity and participation, which is reminiscent of Marx's critique of alienation.
These criticisms were revived on the left of the Russian Communist Party after the 10th Congress in 1921, which introduced the New Economic Policy. Many members of the Workers' Opposition and the Decists (both later banned) and two new underground Left Communist groups, Gavril Myasnikov's Workers' Group and the Workers' Truth group, developed the idea that Russia was becoming a state capitalist society governed by a new bureaucratic class. The most developed version of this idea was in a 1931 booklet by Myasnikov.
Immediately after the Russian Revolution many western Marxists questioned whether socialism was possible in Russia. Specifically, Karl Kautsky:
It is only the old feudal large landed property which exists no longer. Conditions in Russia were ripe for its abolition but they were not ripe for the abolition of capitalism. Capitalism is now once again celebrating a resurrection, but in forms that are more oppressive and harrowing for the proletariat than of old. Instead of assuming higher industrialised forms, private capitalism has assumed the most wretched and shabby forms of black marketeering and money speculation. Industrial capitalism has developed to become state capitalism. Formerly state officials and officials from private capital were critical, often very hostile towards each other. Consequently the working man found that his advantage lay with one or the other in turn. Today the state bureaucracy and capitalist bureaucracy are merged into one—that is the upshot of the great socialist revolution brought about by the Bolsheviks. It constitutes the most oppressive of all despotisms that Russia has ever had to suffer.
After 1929, exiled Mensheviks such as Fyodor Dan began to argue that Stalin's Russia constituted a state capitalist society. In the United Kingdom, the orthodox Marxist group the Socialist Party of Great Britain independently developed a similar doctrine. Although initially beginning with the idea that Soviet capitalism differed little from western capitalism, they later began to argue that the bureaucracy held its productive property in common, much like the Catholic Church's. As John O'Neill notes:
Whatever other merits or problems their theories had, in arguing that the Russian revolution was from the outset a capitalist revolution they avoided the ad hoc and post hoc nature of more recent Maoist- and Trotskyist-inspired accounts of state capitalism, which start from the assumption that the Bolshevik revolution inaugurated a socialist economy that at some later stage degenerated into capitalism.
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Leon Trotsky said the term state capitalism "originally arose to designate the phenomena which arise when a bourgeois state takes direct charge of the means of transport or of industrial enterprises" and is therefore a "partial negation" of capitalism. However, Trotsky rejected that description of the USSR claiming instead that it was a degenerated workers' state. After World War II, most Trotskyists accepted an analysis of the Soviet bloc countries as being deformed workers' states. However, alternative opinions of the Trotskyist tradition have developed the theory of state capitalism as a New Class theory to explain what they regard as the essentially non-socialist nature of the USSR, Cuba, China, and other self-proclaimed socialist states.
The discussion goes back to internal debates in the Left Opposition during the late 1920s and early 1930s. Ante Ciliga, a member of the Left Opposition imprisoned at Verkhne-Uralsk in the 1930s, described the evolution of many Left Oppositionists to a theory of state capitalism influenced by Gavril Myasnikov's Workers Group and other Left Communist factions. On release, and returning to activity in the International Left Opposition, Ciliga "was one of the first, after 1936, to raise the theory [of state capitalism] in Trotskyist circles". George Orwell, who was an anti-Stalinist leftist like Ciliga, used the term in his Homage to Catalonia (1938).
After 1940, dissident Trotskyists developed more theoretically sophisticated accounts of state capitalism. One influential formulation has been that of the Johnson-Forest Tendency of CLR James and Raya Dunayevskaya who formulated her theory in the early 1940s on the basis of a study of the first three Five Year Plans alongside readings of Marx's early humanist writings. Their political evolution would lead them away from Trotskyism. Another is that of Tony Cliff, associated with the International Socialist Tendency and the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP), dating back to the late 1940s. Unlike Johnson-Forest, Cliff formulated a theory of state capitalism that would enable his group to remain Trotskyists, albeit heterodox ones. A relatively recent text by Stephen Resnick and Richard D. Wolff, Class Theory and History, explores what they term state capitalism in the former Soviet Union, continuing a theme that has been debated within Trotskyist theory for most of the past century.
The left communist/council communist traditions outside Russia consider the Soviet system as state capitalist. Otto Rühle, a major German left communist, developed this idea from the 1920s, and it was later articulated by Dutch council communist Anton Pannekoek, for instance in "State Capitalism and Dictatorship" (1936).
From 1956 to the early 1980s, the Communist Party of China and their Maoist or "anti-revisionist" adherents around the world often described the Soviet Union as state-capitalist, essentially using the accepted Marxist definition, albeit on a different basis and in reference to a different span of time from either the Trotskyists or the left-communists. Specifically, the Maoists and their descendants use the term state capitalism as part of their description of the style and politics of Nikita Khrushchev and his successors, as well as to similar leaders and policies in other self-styled "socialist" states. This was involved in the ideological Sino-Soviet Split.
After Mao's death, amidst the supporters of the Cultural Revolution and the exploits of the "Gang of Four", most extended the state capitalist formulation to China itself, and ceased to support the Communist Party of China, which likewise distanced itself from these former fraternal groups. The related theory of Hoxhaism was developed in 1978, largely by Albanian president Enver Hoxha, who insisted that Mao himself had pursued state capitalist and revisionist economic policies.
Most current Communist groups descended from the Maoist ideological tradition still adopt the description of both China and the Soviet Union as being "state-capitalist" from a certain point in their history onwards—most commonly, the Soviet Union from 1956 to its collapse in 1991, and China from 1976 to the present. Maoists and "anti-revisionists" also sometimes use the term "Social-imperialism" to describe socialist states that they consider to be actually capitalist in essence—their phrase, "socialist in words, imperialist in deeds" denotes this.
Murray Rothbard, a laissez-faire capitalist philosopher, uses the term interchangeably with the term state monopoly capitalism, and uses it to describe a partnership of government and big business in which the state intervenes on behalf of large capitalists against the interests of consumers. He distinguishes this from laissez-faire capitalism where big business is not protected from market forces. This usage dates from the 1960s, when Harry Elmer Barnes described the post-New Deal economy of the United States as "state capitalism." More recently, Andrei Illarionov, former economic advisor to Russian President Vladimir Putin, resigned in December 2005, protesting Russia's "embracement of state capitalism."
The term is not used by the classical liberals to describe the public ownership of the means of production. The Austrian School economist Ludwig von Mises explained the reason: "The socialist movement takes great pains to circulate frequently new labels for its ideally constructed state. Each worn-out label is replaced by another which raises hopes of an ultimate solution of the insoluble basic problem of Socialism—until it becomes obvious that nothing has been changed but the name. The most recent slogan is "State Capitalism." It is not commonly realized that this covers nothing more than what used to be called Planned Economy and State Socialism, and that State Capitalism, Planned Economy, and State Socialism diverge only in non-essentials from the "classic" ideal of egalitarian Socialism."
On economic issues, Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini claimed in 1933 that, were Fascism to follow the modern phase of capitalism, its path would "lead inexorably into state capitalism, which is nothing more nor less than state socialism turned on its head. In either event, [whether the outcome be state capitalism or state socialism] the result is the bureaucratization of the economic activities of the nation." Mussolini claimed that capitalism had degenerated in three stages, starting with dynamic or heroic capitalism (1830–1870) followed by static capitalism (1870–1914) and then reaching its final form of decadent capitalism, also known as supercapitalism beginning in 1914.
Mussolini denounced supercapitalism for causing the "standardization of humankind" and for causing excessive consumption. Mussolini claimed that at this stage of supercapitalism "[it] is then that a capitalist enterprise, when difficulties arise, throws itself like a dead weight into the state's arms. It is then that state intervention begins and becomes more necessary. It is then that those who once ignored the state now seek it out anxiously." Due to the inability of businesses to operate properly when facing economic difficulties, Mussolini claimed that this proved that state intervention into the economy was necessary to stabilize the economy.
Mussolini claimed that dynamic or heroic capitalism and the bourgeoisie could be prevented from degenerating into static capitalism and then supercapitalism only if the concept of economic individualism were abandoned and if state supervision of the economy was introduced. Private enterprise would control production but it would be supervised by the state. Italian Fascism presented the economic system of corporatism as the solution that would preserve private enterprise and property while allowing the state to intervene in the economy when private enterprise failed.
An alternate definition is that state capitalism is a close relationship between the government and private capitalism, such as one in which the private capitalists produce for a guaranteed market. An example of this would be the military-industrial complex in which autonomous entrepreneurial firms produce for lucrative government contracts and are not subject to the discipline of competitive markets. Many consider this as part of a continuum characterizing the modern world economy with "normal" capitalism at one extreme and complete state capitalism like that of the former USSR at the other.
Both the Trotskyist definition and this one derive from discussion among Marxists at the beginning of the 20th century, most notably Nikolai Bukharin who, in his book Imperialism and the world economy thought that advanced, 'imperialist' countries exhibited the latter definition and considered (and rejected) the possibility that they could arrive at the former.
State capitalism is practised by a variety of Western countries with respect to certain strategic resources important for national security. These may involve private investment as well. For example, a government may own or even monopolize oil production or transport infrastructure to ensure availability in the case of war. Examples include Neste, Statoil and OMV.
There are limits, according to arguments that state capitalism exists to ensure that wealth creation does not threaten the ruling elite’s political power, which remains unthreatened by tight connections between the government and the industries while state capitalist fears of capitalism's “creative destruction,” of the threat of revolution, and of any significant changes in the system result in the persistence of industries that have outlived their economic usefulness and an inefficient economic environment that is ill equipped to inspire innovation.
Several European scholars and political economists have used the term to describe one of the three major varieties of capitalism that prevail in the modern context of the European Union. This approach is mainly influenced by Schmidt's (2002) article on The Futures of European Capitalism, in which he divides modern European capitalism in three groups: Market, Managed and State. Here, state capitalism refers to a system where high coordination between the state, large companies and labour unions ensures economic growth and development in a quasi-corporatist model. The author cites France and, to a lesser extent, Italy as the prime examples of modern European State capitalism. A general theory of Capitalist forms, whereby state capitalism is a particular case, was developed by Ernesto Screpanti, who argues that soviet type economies of the 20th century used state capitalism to sustain processes of primitive accumulation.
State capitalism is distinguished from capitalist mixed economies where the state intervenes in markets in order to correct market failures or establish social regulations in the following way: in a state capitalist system, the state operates businesses for the purpose of accumulating capital and directing investment in the framework of either a free-market economy or a mixed-market economy. State and governmental functions are organized as corporations, companies or business enterprises.
Many analysts assert that China is one of the main examples of state capitalism in the 21st century. In his book, The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations, political scientist Ian Bremmer describes China as the primary driver for the rise of state capitalism as a challenge to the free market economies of the developed world, particularly in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. Bremmer describes state capitalism thus:
In this system, governments use various kinds of state-owned companies to manage the exploitation of resources that they consider the state's crown jewels and to create and maintain large numbers of jobs. They use select privately owned companies to dominate certain economic sectors. They use so-called sovereign wealth funds to invest their extra cash in ways that maximize the state's profits. In all three cases, the state is using markets to create wealth that can be directed as political officials see fit. And in all three cases, the ultimate motive is not economic (maximizing growth) but political (maximizing the state's power and the leadership's chances of survival). This is a form of capitalism but one in which the state acts as the dominant economic player and uses markets primarily for political gain.
Following on Bremmer, Aligica and Tarko further develop the theory that state capitalism in countries like modern-day China and Russia is an example of a rent-seeking society. They argue that, following the realization that the socialist systems could not effectively compete with capitalist economies, formerly communist political elites are trying to engineer a limited form of economic liberalization that increases efficiency while still allowing them to maintain political control and power.
Analysis of the "Chinese model" by the economists Julan Du and Chenggang Xu finds that the contemporary economic system of the People's Republic of China represents a state capitalist system as opposed to a market socialist system. The reason for this categorization is that financial markets exist in the Chinese economic system, which are absent in the market socialist literature and classic models of market socialism; and that state profits are retained by enterprises rather than being equitably distributed among the population in a basic income or similar scheme (which are features of market socialism in the market socialist literature). They conclude that China is neither a form of market socialism nor a stable form of capitalism.
It has been argued[by whom?] that Singapore's economic model is a form of state capitalism, where the state owns controlling shares in government-linked companies and directs investment through sovereign wealth funds.