Lenin acknowledging the intentional implementation of State Capitalism in the USSR

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Red Marriott's picture
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Sep 27 2014 21:01

I think you need to explain and justify such statements, Gepetto, for them to have much relevance to the discussion.

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Sep 27 2014 21:16

When and where were those bureaucrats organising politically around their own class demands?

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Sep 28 2014 00:27

How does that statement relate to your previous one?

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Sep 28 2014 00:31
Gepetto wrote:
When and where were those bureaucrats organising politically around their own class demands?

Central Committee? wink

Karl Marx
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Sep 28 2014 00:59

OK when Lenin says at the 11 kongress that there is no link betwen the peasant economy and the new socialist economy that they are trying to create. He keeps repeating this link but what does he mean by it. What link?

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Sep 28 2014 01:30

I also don't see that the Soviet bureaucracy constituted a distinctly new class of any sort. In the way that it functioned, wasn't it essentially just a capitalist--in a collective form, but nonetheless a controller of capital presiding over the capitalist mode of production? Couldn't it be compared to a corporation running a company town, though on a much larger scale, of the sort that used to exist in the US? I might be a bit confused about this discussion, though, since I'm not sure what organizing politically around class demands has to do with anything.

Karl Marx
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Sep 28 2014 01:33

Does he mean they dont have anything to offer to pesants in return for i guess food? So they allow them to trade with capitalists.

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Sep 28 2014 07:21

edit now posting this as myself, for some bizarre reason it logged me in as iexist previosuly

Gepetto wrote:
When and where were those bureaucrats organising politically around their own class demands?

Like most people on here have heard these and other abstractions from supporters f the USSR before, much like the leninist arguments over what constitutes a state.
In practice they just veer away at right angles from reality of obfuscate away from discussing praxticalities.
As noted senior bureaucrats were on extremely high salaries. Managers were usually on a salary differential of around 7:1.To imagine that these differentials were unsupported by class attitudes within society or social organisation is to me pretty much akin to the ''Stalin fell from the moon'' camp of thinking advocated by more orthodox trots.
Like all societies the USSR had an ideological and economic underpinning and like all societies sometimes these were at odds and contradictory. This doesn't change the fact that despite some social mobility and a large welfare state there were definitely rich and poor in the USSR.

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Sep 28 2014 10:53
Railyon wrote:
Gepetto wrote:
When and where were those bureaucrats organising politically around their own class demands?

Central Committee? ;)

Are politicians running parties and states for their own ends, or for the ends of the dominant class they represent?

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Sep 28 2014 11:14
Red Marriott wrote:
How does that statement relate to your previous one?

Because that's what defines a class apart from the common relationship with the means of production? (supposed 'bureaucratic class' doesn't meet the latter criterion either)

Could bureaucrats for example make their own revolution?

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Sep 28 2014 11:11

Also to make it clear, that I don't agree with the characterisation of the Eastern bloc economies as state capitalists doesn't mean I'm peddling the 'degenerate/deformed workers' state' nonsense (nor Schatchmanite 'bureaucratic collectivism'). However viewing USSR as capitalist doesn't guarantee anything either. IIRC for the likes of Cliff it was still better than the West as some 'higher' form of capitalism. Of course such view is ridiculous given that this economic system was barely functioning.

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Sep 28 2014 11:31
cantdocartwheels wrote:
This doesn't change the fact that despite some social mobility and a large welfare state there were definitely rich and poor in the USSR.

Of course, but that doesn't mean there was capitalism and/or that bureaucracy was the ruling class.

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Oct 2 2014 15:55
Gepetto wrote:
You're making an assumption that money was primary if not only factor in acquiring the means of subsistence in the Eastern bloc, not time to wait in queues and connections. Also many things were alreavy provided by state.

And that differed from Western Europe in the same period how?

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Oct 3 2014 08:06
Reddebrek wrote:
Gepetto wrote:
You're making an assumption that money was primary if not only factor in acquiring the means of subsistence in the Eastern bloc, not time to wait in queues and connections. Also many things were alreavy provided by state.

And that differed from Western Europe in the same period how?

Wait, there was a chronic shortage of even basic goods in the West?

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Oct 3 2014 09:59

Also another question to the supporters of state capitalist theory: it is known to all who read some Marx that capitalism has tendency to economise on labour power by revolutionising means of production, laying off workers that are no longer necessary because of that and make those still employed work more, longer and for lesser wages- how come the opposite happened in the Soviet Union and its satellite regimes then? In general, the tendency was not to innovate, but to hoard old machinery. As for the workers... well, everyone who lives in a post-Stalinist country knows what it looked like there. "Czy się stoi, czy się leży, dwa tysiące się należy" ("Whether are you standing or you are lying, you are entitled to your two thousands"), as the saying went in Poland. Since regimes were politically dependant on the working class (but despite them subordinating the said working class- the same way a trade union or social democratic party would need to base itself on workers), they couldn't discipline it by creating a "reserve army of the unemployed". They were obliged to give everyone a job and pay them (or rather pretend to... in return workers pretended to work).

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Oct 3 2014 12:05
Gepetto wrote:

Wait, there was a chronic shortage of even basic goods in the West?

That isn't an answer to my question but sometimes yes depending on the product, I can remember hours long queues and empty shelves in the 90's. And I can think of quite a few things I got because I knew someone in the supply chain. But even if that weren't the case that has nothing to with my question or your argument.

Full shelves do not equal capitalism anymore then empty shelves equal the opposite. I asked you how the two economic systems differed because this.

Gepetto wrote:
You're making an assumption that money was primary if not only factor in acquiring the means of subsistence in the Eastern bloc, not time to wait in queues and connections. Also many things were alreavy provided by state.

Is exactly the same in Western Europe, large parts of the economy were under state control, and they provided a lot of services and goods. All you've done is shown western Europe to be more efficient at this then the East.

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Oct 3 2014 12:37
Gepetto wrote:
Also another question to the supporters of state capitalist theory: it is known to all who read some Marx that capitalism has tendency to economise on labour power by revolutionising means of production, laying off workers that are no longer necessary because of that and make those still employed work more, longer and for lesser wages- how come the opposite happened in the Soviet Union and its satellite regimes then?

Well it did actually, the Soviet Union and its satellite states did develop new technologies in there economies. Mechanisation of agriculture, pneumatic drills, computer systems. Lenin was a big admirer of Taylors rational work organisation schemes and incorporated them into the Soviet economy.

There were also quite a few attempts to shift production away from Heavy industries to light industry to increase the number of consumer goods.

And again you could ask the same thing about Western Europe, from 1945-80, especially in Britain the privatisations of the 80's were justified on grounds of modernisation and efficiency.
So was pre Thatcher Britain not Capitalist?

The Soviet Union et all never went as far as Western Europe in its modernisation plans because its political commitment to full employment was more important to its entire political argument for its existence. This is just another case of their economies being to inefficient to change quick enough.

In the 1900's German industry was quickly out producing older more established British firms because the German industrialists took advantage of cheaper more efficient machinery from the start whilst British Industrialists were still tied to older models because they couldn't afford to upgrade.

So was pre 1914 Britain also not Capitalist?

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In general, the tendency was not to innovate, but to hoard old machinery.

That may of been the case for Poland and the Eastern Bloc (though I personally doubt it), but it certainly wasn't true of the Soviet Union whom was obsessed with overtaking the west in every technological field. And I also know Bulgaria was big on computers and electronics.

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As for the workers... well, everyone who lives in a post-Stalinist country knows what it looked like there. "Czy się stoi, czy się leży, dwa tysiące się należy" ("Whether are you standing or you are lying, you are entitled to your two thousands"), as the saying went in Poland.

Oh so that's Polish for Dole and other benefits. Again in Western Europe the states had many benefits and credits for most of the population. In Britain originally you could sign on for unemployment benefit the day you left school at 16 and receive it until retirement age when it was replaced with a pension.

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Since regimes were politically dependant on the working class (but despite them subordinating the said working class- the same way a trade union or social democratic party would need to base itself on workers),

Ah Social Democratic parties, just like the ones that came to power in Western Europe for most of the post WWII years.

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they couldn't discipline it by creating a "reserve army of the unemployed". They were obliged to give everyone a job and pay them (or rather pretend to... in return workers pretended to work).

Welcome to the UK 1945, a commitment to full employment was the keystone of the Welfare State initiative that had the official support of big three parties until the late seventies.

Again I ask you how on earth this differs in the fundamentals from Western Europe?

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Oct 3 2014 16:58
Reddebrek wrote:
Full shelves do not equal capitalism anymore then empty shelves equal the opposite.

Okay, I just wanted to say that Eastern bloc economies weren't really monetary (and even when you were giving money in exchange for something, it was more like an accounting unit).

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Lenin was a big admirer of Taylors rational work organisation schemes and incorporated them into the Soviet economy.

How much was Taylorism actually applied and how much it was a fantasy of Soviet managers? If it was in effect why they had to resort to Stakhanovism to raise productivity? (Stakhanovism is specifically Russian thing, but the phenomenon of udarniks and obsession with exceeding production norms was present in other countries) (of course contrary to Taylorism, Stakhanovism didn't achieve the desired results)

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That may of been the case for Poland and the Eastern Bloc (though I personally doubt it), but it certainly wasn't true of the Soviet Union whom was obsessed with overtaking the west in every technological field. And I also know Bulgaria was big on computers and electronics.

And how much they actually relied on borrowing new technologies from capitalist countries? And why there was such difficulty in modernising factories?

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Is exactly the same in Western Europe, large parts of the economy were under state control, and they provided a lot of services and goods.

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And again you could ask the same thing about Western Europe, from 1945-80, especially in Britain the privatisations of the 80's were justified on grounds of modernisation and efficiency.

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Welcome to the UK 1945, a commitment to full employment was the keystone of the Welfare State initiative that had the official support of big three parties until the late seventies.

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Again I ask you how on earth this differs in the fundamentals from Western Europe?

The thing is... in Western Europe there was still a labour market, in Eastern there was none. Well no real markets in any commodities. And in the West you could still threaten workers with unemployment.

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Oh so that's Polish for Dole and other benefits.

No, it's about wages. Precisely about how workers were receiving the same amount irrespectively of whether they were lazing or working hard. But it shows how bureaucrats lacked effective incentives for workers to work in general (contrary to capitalists).

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Oct 3 2014 18:44

I think I agree with Bukharin; state capitalism has a tendency to degenerate into industrial slavery.

Slave owners of the Southern States of USA, who had a 'capitalist outlook' as Karl described them, often faced the same problems as the Bolsheviks, where the last solution for dealing with lazy labourers was to send and threaten to send them down the river to Mississippi or up the river to the gulags and slave labour camps in Siberia etc

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State capitalism uniting and organizing the bourgeoisie, increasing the power of capitalism, has, of course, greatly weakened the working class. Under State capitalism the workers became the white slaves of the capitalist State. They were deprived of the right to strike; they were mobilized and militarized; everyone who raised his voice against the war was hauled before the courts and sentenced as a traitor. In many countries the workers were deprived of all freedom of movement, being forbidden to transfer from one enterprise to another. ' Free' wage workers were reduced to serfdom; they were doomed to perish on the battlefields, not on behalf of their own cause but on behalf of that of their enemies. They were doomed to work themselves to death, not for their own sake or for that of their comrades or their children, but for the sake of their oppressors.

http://www.marxists.org/archive/bukharin/works/1920/abc/04.htm

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Oct 3 2014 20:15
Gepetto wrote:
Stalinist bureaucrats weren't even a class. Definitely not in Marxist terms.

Red Marriott wrote:
I think you need to explain and justify such statements, Gepetto, for them to have much relevance to the discussion.

Gepetto wrote:
When and where were those bureaucrats organising politically around their own class demands?

Red Marriott wrote:
How does that statement relate to your previous one?

Gepetto wrote:
Because that's what defines a class apart from the common relationship with the means of production? (supposed 'bureaucratic class' doesn't meet the latter criterion either)
Could bureaucrats for example make their own revolution?

Are you implying that the Bolshevik-led state was uniquely a-political and a-classist? According to what ‘Marxist definition’ could any state really be? If not, then the bureaucracy, in their administrative role had the political function of collectively enforcing a particular form of social relations. Your definition of class as a group “organising politically with a common relationship to the means of production” (though it seems to ignore, eg, the Marxist distinction between the passive ‘class in itself’ v active ‘class for itself’) would seem to fit these collective managers of society; ie, their relationship as managers/administrators was “a common relationship to the means of production” – demarcated from the working class also, as cantdo says, by extreme wage differentials, other access to social wealth, social status and bureaucratic control over other social groups. This was itself a form of political organising – the political form, historically, that contributed to preventing any further social transformation by the working class itself. After all, the seizure of state power was the ultimate political goal of Bolshevism and what they had organised to achieve and prepare themselves for.

Kronstadt and the accompanying Petrograd strikes of 1921 were surely a manifestation of a political relationship between working class and state bureaucracy, an example of the conflict of two classes “organising politically around their own class demands”. Unless one believes it was an a-political internal dispute within the working class?! If, as you agree, there was exploitation of the working class, then by who – surely by another class? Yet if those who controlled the state and were bosses of production weren’t a class who was the exploiter?

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"But the transformation, either into joint-stock companies, or into state ownership, does not do away with the capitalistic nature of the productive forces. In the joint-stock companies this is obvious. And the modern state, again, is only the organisation that bourgeois society takes on in order to support the general external conditions of the capitalist mode of production against the encroachments as well of the workers as of individual capitalists. The modern state, no matter what its form, is essentially a capitalist machine, the state of the capitalists, the ideal personification of the total national capital. The more it proceeds to the taking over of productive forces, the more does it actually become the national capitalist, the more citizens does it exploit. The workers remain wage-workers — proletarians. The capitalist relation is not done away with." (Engels - Anti-Duhring, 1878)

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Oct 3 2014 20:37
Gepetto wrote:
Okay, I just wanted to say that Eastern bloc economies weren't really monetary (and even when you were giving money in exchange for something, it was more like an accounting unit).

Oh so like a company store or a chemists then.

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How much was Taylorism actually applied and how much it was a fantasy of Soviet managers?

Well given how visitors to the Soviet Union commented that factories operated in much the same way they did in the West I'd have to conclude quite a bit. In fact Taylor has been described as the father of the planned economy.

http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=cHPO_yLx5ToC&lpg=PP1&pg=PP1&redir_esc...

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If it was in effect why they had to resort to Stakhanovism to raise productivity?

Why do you assume they're mutually exclusive? From what I've read the Stakhanovites were part of the Taylorist reforms. As was the Five Year plans. Certainly the Soviet Union acknowledged the connection

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"In the capitalist countries," he says, "Taylorism has made a gulf between physical and mental labor, and put up barriers between the workers of various qualifications. In the Soviet Union everything which is scientific and progressive as regards the improvement of the conditions of labor is taken from Taylorism, and everything that destroys the organism and lowers human self-respect is removed from it.

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(Stakhanovism is specifically Russian thing, but the phenomenon of udarniks and obsession with exceeding production norms was present in other countries)

Not really the name is Russian obviously but the phenomena of managers rewarding loyal and hard workers in an attempt to encourage the rest of the workforce to put more effort into seems to me to be a very old worldwide phenomenon.

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(of course contrary to Taylorism, Stakhanovism didn't achieve the desired results)

I disagree I've always believed the Stakhanov episode was a propaganda exercise rather then a economic one. I seem to remember the reason Stakhanov and his work team were able to exceed average output so much was because they had been equipped with the most advance equipment.

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And how much they actually relied on borrowing new technologies from capitalist countries?

With the Soviet Union not much, they were heavily tied into the "Soviet X is the best X in the world" China on the other hand owed much of its 80's growth to technology bought from foreign countries. There is evidence that Soviet designers copied or were at least heavily inspired by other nations gear but that's generally true of all designers.

But again I really don't see your point, Capitalist economies rely on foreign technologies all the time, in Britain in the 80's was flooded with American and Japanese amongst others technology. whereas pre WWI when Britain was the dominant economy in the World it was the one doing the flooding, it was Capitalist in both instances so it doesn't really seem to matter.

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And why there was such difficulty in modernising factories?

Well if I had to guess I'd say the same reason everyone has trouble modernising factories, the costs could outweigh the gains and the levels of resistance. The modernising of large parts of Western economies were often very bitter, very long and very costly.

There where also some very bitter struggles in parts of the former Soviet Union in the 90's when they finally where being modernised I guess my guess is that "the workers state" knew how damaging a full scale conflict between it and thousands of actually workers would be. The Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc regimes where notorious for dealing with strikes incredibly brutally. I believe that's especially true of Poland.

Going back to Britain, both the Labour and Conservative party seem to have come to the conclusion that British industry couldn't carry on as it did in the late 60's and both governments attempting to reform and modernise them, but because of the resistance by the workers in the industries that process floundered until the 1980's and even then the process is still ongoing.

So again I'm not really seeing much of a difference here.

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The thing is... in Western Europe there was still a labour market, in Eastern there was none. Well no real markets in any commodities.

There was unemployment in the Soviet Union and I know for a fact that was also true of Romania as well. I know the USSR and all the Eastern bloc regimes liked to claim they had 100% adult employment but it wasn't really true, even official Soviet documents admit to unemployment

At certain times and periods unemployment was very low but that wasn't always the case, and didn't mean they couldn't make unemployed as a punishment.

Here's a figure from the 1920's

And here's another one from 1988 about the 1970's

And here's the thing in Western Europe when there was still a commitment to full employment long term unemployment was (statistically speaking) usually very small amongst the able bodied unless the entire economy was struggling.

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And in the West you could still threaten workers with unemployment.

But you could also do that in the Soviet Union, I've read quite a few accounts of strikes and factory disturbances in the Soviet Union and in each case management threatened to fire anyone who didn't give up.

I just finished reading this one for example in it not only are there references to the unemployed but also a threat to sack and or withhold wages from those workers continuing to strike.

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No, it's about wages. Precisely about how workers were receiving the same amount irrespectively of whether they were lazing or working hard.

Oh so that's Polish for an hourly wage, well that changes everything....

Also there was a reward scheme in place in the Soviet economy, mostly holidays, goods and plaques which are also used quite heavily in many work places over here.

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But it shows how bureaucrats lacked effective incentives for workers to work in general (contrary to capitalists).

Yeah, not quite I've been employed where pay was the same regardless of productivity, and one of the biggest complaints I've had from my friends at other work places is that someone whose lazy or useless gets paid the same.

All you've done is confirm managers can be lazy and useless East of the Danube.

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Oct 3 2014 21:11

I'd love to hear how the law of value asserted itself in the Eastern bloc without the equalization of rates of profit through competition of individual capitals.

Or how the value of labor power was kept in check in the absence of the reserve army.

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Oct 3 2014 23:01
jura wrote:
I'd love to hear how the law of value asserted itself in the Eastern bloc without the equalization of rates of profit through competition of individual capitals.

Or how the value of labor power was kept in check in the absence of the reserve army.

My first intuitive answer to that would have been that both were steered by a central direction authority. The rates of profit serve to distribute labor across industries, which could as well be directed by central planners (according to their motto (I think it originated with Engels, even): understand the logic of capitalism to "optimize" it). Value of labor power would be the least problematic if we assume such a planning authority, it wouldn't need unemployment for that.

I think if we make a systemic argument out of it, the more concrete phenomena of capitalism can more easily be modified (that is, change their appearance) to still work structurally but in another guise. Just think of the "money problem" many people see in chapter 3 of Capital - just because money apparently lost its convertibility (in whatever form), a money commodity is still needed (and logically sound) in the context of value form. The question is then how this "new" mediation (Vermittlung) of structural component (money commodity) and surface phenomena (paper money et al) takes place. I see the problem of equalization of profit rates in a similar light - just because it did not happen under the "invisible hand" does not mean it didn't happen at all. Unless, of course, one starts to believe a society based on the first three chapters of Capital can exist by itself (and it would make the whole argument of social specificity crumble) - then, maybe, mutualists wouldn't be quite the idealists they have been accused of.

But again, just a gut feeling as I have not concerned myself with the Eastern Bloc that much (no offense, but I think our time is better spent elsewhere - if we reject markets anyway, I doubt much else needs to be said). Then again, maybe it's just the beer speaking in my post.

Based on my knowledge of the GDR however, the calculations were usually awful - leading to such cases where bread was cheaper than the wheat it had been made from, et cetera.

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Oct 4 2014 09:51

The thing is that the planning decisions weren't driven by the profitability of sectors or enterprises. It wasn't like "this sector is now profitable, let's move all investments there". There were economists and even high-ranking bureaucrats in the Eastern bloc who pushed for that, but it never really became the policy. One of the reasons certainly was the fear of working class response, because such policy would inevitably mean bankruptcies (then virtually non-existent) and unemployment (true, there was some unemployment in the Eastern bloc, and unemployment was even used as a form of punishment, but mostly for political or disciplinary reasons, not as a way of coping with investment problems or technological progress), as well as attacks on the wage and working conditions. (This is just an anecdote, but at the end of the 80s, a skilled manual worker in Czechoslovakia could still earn twice as much as a Party newspaper editor or a college professor.)

Even at the lower level, the motives and actions of directors in "socialist enterprises" were quite different from those of capitalist managers. There were few incentives for increasing profitability, and the enterprises instead concentrated on hoarding resources (both material and personal, hence the waste and high employment, although both phenomena had other causes as well), and fulfilling quantitative targets (hence the waste and low quality of products). Although there were attempts, almost periodical, to introduce more elements of competition and the profit-motive – like the khozraschyot – they were never successful. The Eastern bloc developed its own mechanisms, like udarnikism, "socialist commitments" and "socialist competition", but they were quite the farce compared to what is routinely going on in capitalism.

So I don't see the law of value working in the same way in the Eastern bloc and in the West.

Now, although I think it's an interesting and important subject, I don't have a theory of the USSR. However, I think that the superficial characteristics of the system ("the workers got paid in money for their work", "products were bought in shops", "sometimes some people were out of work") aren't really helpful in determining its character. There was more going on behind the scenes and simply slapping the "capitalist" label on it is just an easy way out. (I don't think I have to add that I view the Eastern bloc an enemy of the workers and of course it wasn't "socialism".)

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Oct 4 2014 15:49

Didn't Marx argue that the reign of capital was a particular stage in the evolution of human Kultur, heading (potentially) towards a truly universal humanity? That it was certainly the last of a long series of civilisations founded on "antagonistic relations of production", not least because it was the first to have attained such a planet-wide domination. If you like, this is the "real domination of capital", posited on the almost complete destruction of all previous modes of production. Capital is a world relation or it is nothing, and the workings of the national economies can only be understood in the context of global capital. The law of value dominated the 'eastern bloc' because it had already dominated the Earth.

The appearance of state capitalism, already noted by Engels in the late 19th century, is part of this story. The term has often been distorted, particularly by the Trotskyist versions of the theory of state capitalism, to mean something specific that only applies to the Stalinist regimes, when in reality Stalinism is just one particular form of the universal shift toward state capitalism. It's true that the Stalinist economies were an especially "deformed" embodiment of the trend, largely as a result of their chronic economic weakness. But capitalism on a world scale, above all from the early part of the 20th century, had already deformed itself in a similar way because capitalist social relations had become a definitive fetter on the possibilities of further social advance. Capitalism takes refuge in statified, bureaucratic and militarised forms because it is threatened with death, from the revolutionary class, from the economic crisis, from the increasingly destructive competition between nation states, and (something that has more recently become evident) from the devastation of the planetary environment.

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Oct 4 2014 16:05

Go science! There's no difference between the USSR and the US because both have to fit some preconceived teleological scheme developed mostly by German social democrats in the 19th century.

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Oct 4 2014 18:55

Was Marx one of those 19th century social democrats?

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Oct 4 2014 21:00

Partially, yes. I don't think everything Marx ever wrote is sacred.

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Oct 4 2014 23:09

Who thinks every word of Marx is sacred? But what you're rejecting as a "preconceived teleological scheme" is pretty much his fundamental historical method.

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Oct 5 2014 07:58

It'd make for a much interesting debate if you didn't justify all of your conclusions by appeals to authority and/or to a speculative philosophy of history. It seems like for you, everything is already decided:

"There was law of value in the Eastern bloc because the law of value had been everywhere else prior to that."

"When capitalism is threatened, it turns to militarism, bureaucratism etc. Hence, all forms of the latter can be explained by the fact that capitalism is threatened."

I would be interested in how the law of value actually operated in the Soviet Union. Marx makes a convincing argument about how it operates in capitalism and how this operation is mediated in the consciousness of the capitalists through, e.g., the hunt for extra profit. He shows how the equalization of profit rates is possible through credit and the stock market, and how the value of labor power is kept within certain limits by the reserve army. These are all empirical arguments. If you cut these off, you have to provide some other justification or the law of value turns into some magical power.