[Marxism] Re: surplus value in ussr

Paul Cockshott clyder at gn.apc.org
Tue May 18 14:56:04 MDT 2004

> Calvin Broadbent wrote:
> > Hi Louis and Melvin,
> > Thanks for your posts- much appreciated. Do you think, as some
> > Trotskyists seem to have it, that given that (or 'if') the USSR was in
> > competition with the capitalist West, and trying to 'outproduce' it and
> > outperform the West economically, that the 'law of value', the
> > determination of production according to the laws of exchange value, was
> > still in operation?
> This is a very complex question. I think it is difficult to extrapolate
> "the law of value" in the absense of a capitalist class. Despite all the
> attempts of people like Tony Cliff and Charles Bettelheim to explain the
> USSR as a class society, I am more convinced by Alec Nove and others who
> found the profit motive in short supply. Unless you have a market in
> labor and the threat of unemployment, it is very difficult to generate
> surplus value.

You are quite right in counterposing the mode of surplus production
and appropriation in the USSR to that in capitalist countries.

The innermost secret of a society is revealed by its mode of
appropriation of a surplus product. In capitalist society this takes
the form of the purchase of labour power and the sale of the
product of labour for a profit on the market.
In a socialist society the mode of surplus appropriation is through
the plan. The plan specifies in material form how much of the
social output is to be consumer goods and how much is to
be other categories - weapons, space probes etc.
This is quite distinct from capitalism in that the determination'
of the surplus is
a) directly social
b) in material not money terms

The issue of unemployment is also vital, but this relates to
the enforcement of labour discipline and the amount of
total labour performed.  In the absence of unemployment
labour discipline had intially to be maintained by draconian
legislation, incentive payments and ideological campaigns.
The draconian measures of the 30s were unsustainable and
repealed during the 50s, which left incentives and ideology.
This again is quite different from the fear of unemployment
as a stimulus to the extension and intensity of labour.

A lot of difficulties in understanding the USSR stem from 
people not having a theoretical political economy of socialism
but instead relying on relict utopianism combined with
concepts from the political economy of capitalism. For all
the initial promise of Bettleheim's final book, he never
connects it adequately with his earlier work on the political
economy of socialism, and that earlier work itself stops short
of developing a coherent conceptual framework. It was more
in the form of a series of explorations.

Ah Well, the Owl of Minerva and that!

More information about the Marxism mailing list