At "Unity and Struggle" issue 23 (November 2011) we published an article with the title The working class in the Khrushchev-Brezhnev period was no longer the owner of the means of production
Here is the second part of this article.
The restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union (1953-1990).
The working class in the Khrushchev-Brezhnev period was no longer the owner of the means of production
b. In the commodity economy of the Soviet Union, labor power had been anew converted to commodity.
The economic category “labor power” is the fundamental and most central for understanding scientifically the nature of the two diametrically opposite social-economic systems of the 20th century: capitalism-imperialism and socialism-communism. It is this historical-economic category that is related to both systems, with the existence of exploitation in capitalism and with its abolition in socialism-communism, while its different character determines their essence respectively.
As capitalism emerged, developed and dominated society as a full-fledged mode of production, the conversion of labor power to commodity was of decisive importance in the transformation of commodity production to a capitalist form, and it was one of the two fundamental features of the capitalist mode of production. On the contrary, in the case of socialism labor power loses its commodity character; it is not anymore a commodity.
The production relations in the economy of the Soviet Union during the 1917-1953 period, i.e. the period of socialism-communism, and later during the Krushchevian-Brezhnevite period, i.e. the period when commodity production dominated, were determined, in both cases, by the relation of the producers to the means of production or as Marx pointed out: “it is always the direct relation between the owners of the conditions of production to the direct producers in which the innermost secret, the hidden basis of the entire social structure and, consequently, of the political form of the sovereignty and dependence relationship and, hence, of every special state form is found” (K. Marx, “The Capital”, vol. 3)
While in the first period (1917-1953), i.e. the period of socialism-communism, this ultimate secret was found in the workers’ collective ownership of the means of production. i.e. in the ownership of the direct producers, the second period was characterized by the total separation of the direct producers, the workers, from the means of Production – the result from the overthrow of the dictatorship of the proletariat and its replacement by the dictatorship of the new bourgeoisie and the associated loss of political power – and the establishment of a completely new reality in the economy of the Soviet Union; new dominant relations of production. It was this economic reality that Marx named as “specific economic form in which unpaid surplus-labor (our italics) is pumped out of the direct producers”. (K. Marx, “The Capital”, vol. 3)
Upon the loss of the political power and the control of the means of production from the working class, the new state of things in the economy of the Soviet Union was characterized by: a) the transformation of the working class to proletariat b) the conversion of the labor power to commodity c) the reappearance of exploitation.
Deprived of the means of production, the working class of the Soviet Union was just a productive force just like the proletariat in the western capitalist countries.
The means of production passed to the hands of the now dominant new bourgeoisie that owned and managed them according to its interests and, as an exploiting class, was appropriating “the unpaid surplus-labor extracted from the direct producers”. To survive and make ends meet, the proletariat of the Soviet Union was compelled to sell its labor power to the new exploiting class and more precisely: to the collective capitalist, the bourgeois “all people’s state”, the representative and defender of the interests of the new bourgeoisie.
Thus, in the commodity economy of the Soviet Union during the Krushchevian-Brezhnevite period, labor power became once more a commodity and the phenomenon of capitalist exploitation, characteristic in the western capitalist countries, appeared again.
Since then and in the coming decades, the same thing that happened in the western capitalist countries, took place in the economy of the Soviet Union; namely what Marx had seen in the capitalist system: “through its own function, the capitalist production process reproduces the separation of the labor power from the labor conditions. In this way, it reproduces and perpetuates the worker’s exploitation conditions. It constantly forces the worker to sell his labor power in order to survive and it constantly offers the capitalist the possibility to purchase it and enrich himself” (K. Marx): “the capitalist production process seen in its structure or as a reproduction process, produces and reproduces the very capital; on one side, the capitalist, on the other the waged worker”. In the case of the Soviet Union, it is not about the private capitalist but the collective capitalist: the bourgeois “all people’s state”.
Now, the claim of the Krushchevian-Brezhnevite revisionists that the labor power in the historical period, following 1953, was not a commodity (I.I.Kusminow 1971, I.N.Shittow 1974, W.Batyrew 1974, et al.) because the working people, allegedly, continued to be the owners of the conditions and the result of the production doesn’t have any basis whatsoever. It turns out to be a conscious political fraud since this claim presupposes the presence of Proletarian Dictatorship through which the working people control both the conditions and the result of the production. However, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat did not exist then because it had already been overthrown two decades earlier, from the beginning of the 1950’s (after the death-assassination of Joseph Stalin).
Of course, there were revisionist economists who openly admitted that the labor Power had been converted to commodity in the soviet economy after 1953 like W.Kornienko-I.Pachomow (1966), Ch.M.Miftachow (1968), P.N.Orechowitsch (1968), I.N.Βusdalow (1966) while others were discussing about the “Value of the labor Power”: “the objective basis to determine a minimum real income of the working people in the socialist production is the Value of the labor Power” (Ch.M.Miftachow, 1968), i.e. as, in capitalism where the worker is paid according to the Value of his labor Power, or that “ in socialism…the worker has the right to freely dispose his labor Power…” (A.Sukhow, 1972) like in capitalism of the western countries.
Moreover, other economists pointed out the resemblance of the wages in the Krushchevian-Brezhnevite “socialism” to the wages in capitalism: “in socialist society labor is paid in a form that is identical to the form of labor’s price when we consider wages in capitalism” (A.Aganbegjan / W.Mayer, 1966). This resemblance necessarily leads to the admission that the labor Power in the Soviet Union’s commodity economy was itself a commodity. Others like E.L.Manewitsch, M.W.Kolganow, S.P.Figurow, observed in the sphere of circulation the presence of laws such as “the remuneration of the time of labor power”, and the “value equivalence” or “equivalence of circulation”. They referred even to an «Existenzminimum», i.e., the survival minimum. In conclusion, both groups of economists recognized and accepted the comercial character of the labor power in the Soviet Union’s commodity economy during the period following 1953.
The above-mentioned facts – including the revisionist economists’ open admission – show that the labor Power had been anew converted to commodity, in the soviet economy of the Krushchevian-Brezhnevite period, and as a result capitalist exploitation had been restored. Analyzing the question of capitalist exploitation capitalist appropriation in a commodity economy, such as the capitalist, Marx pointed out: “to the degree that the commodity production evolves, according to its own inherent laws, to capitalist production, to the same degree the property laws of the commodity production are transformed to laws of capitalist appropriation” (K. Marx)
The replacement of the socialist-communist property relations to capitalist ones was accompanied by the same inevitable change in the socialist-communist distribution relations – “the Distribution relations are essentially identical to the Production relations, their inverted side, so that both together have the same, historically transient character” (K. Marx): “the defined distribution is only an expression of the historically definite Production relations” (K. Marx). This means that the proletariat was paid on the basis of the Value of the labor Power while the exploiting new bourgeoisie was appropriating the surplus value, generated by the workers in the sphere of production. Collectively as class, the new bourgeoisie made sure that a part of this surplus value was converted to Capital and the rest was shared among its members in the form of very high salaries premiums.
The restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union, was also evident in the sphere of Circulation relations, which are determined by the property relations, especially in the relation between enormously high salaries of the members of the new bourgeoisie and the salaries of the workers, and in their diametrically opposite interests. The latter formed the basis of the antagonistic contradictions of the soviet society at that time. Engels had previously pointed out their importance: “the economic relations of each given society are manifested primarily as interests” (F. Engels). At the end of 1970’s, the salaries and the premiums that the business and other executives received were 15-20 times higher than the workers’ salaries. The situation was the same in the collective farms where the difference in salaries was as high as 1 to 30. According to the revisionist press, the largest part of the premiums, and in particular 82%, went to the pockets of the firms’ directors whereas the remaining 18% went to the workers despite the fact that they constituted the overwhelming majority, 80-90% of the working people in the firms (Tirana radio station, 4/2/1978); and this gap was constantly growing at the expense of the workers.