[Marxism] RE: USSR, Democracy, and the Environment

Waistline2 at aol.com Waistline2 at aol.com
Sat May 22 19:48:51 MDT 2004

In a message dated 5/17/2004 5:41:46 AM Central Standard Time, 
donaloc at hotmail.com writes:

>As far as I know, the law of value was applied thoroughly throughout the 
planning process in the Soviet Union.

I've read some Trotskyites say that this rigid reading and application
of the 'law of value' as a means to determine all production was wrong.
I think that they criticise this as an adoption to a form of analysis
worked up by Marx and Engels to simply explain exploitation within
capitalist society. They say it was not necessary to continue this
beyond the revolution.

Interesting to read on this is Che Guevara who essentially argued that
bypassing the law of value was necessary to build socialist
consciousness and to actually take full advantage of the creative
possibilities open to socialism when it decides to do things for a
socially valuable rather than an economically valuable sense.<


Commodities are products produced for exchange. One can properly speak of the 
commodity form of products/social products. A drinking cup produced 5,000 
years ago does not have a commodity form because it is not produced for exchange, 
but rather direct utility. 
Value is the amount of socially necessary labor in commodities. At the base 
line the law of value speaks to equivalent amounts of labor embodied in 
commodities being the fundamental basis of exchange. 

I would personally suggest that anyone read carefully Mr. Stalin's "Economic 
Problems of Socialism in the USSR." Not necessarily for theoretical brilliance 
but to unravel the questions he approaches and tries to unravel. From the 
standpoint of the law of value, agricultural producers have a different 
relationship to their products than say the automobile workers in the Soviet Union. The 
agricultural workers are only willing to alienate their products on the basis 
of exchange, even when the state authority appropriates the vast majority of 
their products. In the very real process of exchange the agricultural workers 
seeks to acquire for his exchange of his products a certain equivalent in 
industrial products. 

Commodity production is ancient and humanity has evolved a sense of value or 
the exchange rates based on the measure of labor time. This sense of 
historically evolved value does not mean that humanity spontaneously unfolds the law of 
value. This unfolding of the law of value was left to the field of political 

This - agriculture, of course is a class and property relationship. The 
factory workers as such do not own their products - or rather commodities and the 
question of alienating their collectively produced products does not exist as 

With all due respect to Comrade Che, no one can "jump over the law of value" 
or skip this stage. I remember the impact of reading Che's "Socialism and Man" 
and during the past week have familiarized myself with many of his writings 
and speeches. 

Profound theory difference tend to surface during any discussion of the law 
of value and the economic problems of Socialism. Enormous theory differences 
exist concerning commodity production on the basis of the bourgeois property 
relations. The theory problems are sharp enough to lead to abandoning the term 
"capitalism" in discussions of political economy. Engels explains in detail that 
since Marx, political economy has used the concept capitalism and the 
capitalist mode of production as shortspeak for "commodity production at the stage of 
industrial society on the basis of the bourgeois property relations." 

Socialism is not an economic system or a mode of production. According to 
Karl Marx what is called "socialism" is a political form of property relations 
called the dictatorship of the proletariat, that occurs during the transition 
from capitalism - the bourgeois property relations, to communism or the 
abolition of property. 

The essence of socialism is not planning or what in the past was called the 
"planned economy" or a "command economy."  Virtually the entire "left" in 
America understands socialism as meaning a planned economy and this is a serious 
misunderstanding of political economy as advanced by Karl Marx. 

Over and over Marx and Engels explain specifically that capitalist commodity 
production means the production of commodities on the basis of the individual 
ownership of capital or capital organized in the hands of individual owners. 
This individual ownership of capital leads to competition in the market between 
capital, as each individual attempts to outdo his competitor and win the 
market. The ownership of capital is protected by law backed up by armed force. 

Capital does not create the law of value. The bourgeoisie does not create the 
law of value. The proletariat cannot abolish the law of value precisely 
because it is a law of political economy, more then less independent of the 
subjective will of man. 

Socialism is a political period of transition between capitalism - the 
bourgeois property relations and the abolition of property. Socialism is a political 
regime not a mode of production. Socialism abolishes the law defining the 
relationship of people to property characteristic of bourgeois property. What 
socialism specifically abolishes is the law that allows individuals to own the 
social power of capital, by erecting a series of laws that prevent anything from 
passing to the individual except items of consumption. No amount of money 
could allow an individual to own a factory in the Soviet Union or hire labor - 
purchase labor power. 

The fact of the matter is that no one could buy a factory of means of 
production in the Soviet Union. Nothing could pass into the hands of the individual 
except items of consumption. What one thinks about how this process occurred 
has nothing to do with whether or not the bourgeois property relations existed 
in the industrial infrastructure in the Soviet Union. 

In this sense screaming "Stalinism" blinds the ideologists to elementary 
political economy taught by Marx and Engels  and their clear descriptions of the 
property relations. 

Whether planning is good or bad is irrelevant to the political laws that 
allows individuals to own capital. Directing the flow of resources and labor is 
not private ownership of capital. Private ownership of capital creates a 
distinct cycle or rather gives reproduction a specific character as it is driven on 
the basis of profitability and competition between capital itself. This 
competition did not exist in the Soviet Union. The law of value was suppressed within 
the Soviet Union in the sense that prices in the Soviet Union were dictated 
more than less by political fiat and not driven by competition between capital. 

Socialism does not mean a classless society because in the last instance 
classes are formed based - not on political laws, but ones relationship in a 
system of production as it operates on the basis of a definable technological 
regime. Class is much richer in its meaning and also embodies property and 
consciousness in the sense of Marx speaking of a "class for itself." 

In this sense one can broadly speak of a ruling class or ruling clique within 
Soviet society or "the new class" or Michael Voslensky's backward concepts of 
class in his book "Nomenklatura" - (Nomenclature). A bourgeois ruling class 
is predicated on individual ownership of capital that is driven on the basis of 
competition between capital in the market. 

Industrial socialism was a transition society in the sense of property 
relations and it is not entirely accurate to speak of the working class selling its 
labor power to itself.  The concrete problem in economic discussions 
concerning problems of Soviet socialism is 99.9% of such discussions are devoid of 
political economy and most writing on this list seems to think the essence of 
socialism is planning. Socialism is political - the abolition of the bourgeois 
property relations and reconfiguring the character of reproduction so that it is 
no longer driven on the basis of the bourgeois property relations. 

I am not entirely sure why many comrades think socialism is an economic 
system, a mode of production, a social relations or a form of democracy instead of 
a property relation or political form of property. I generally attribute this 
to political and ideological Trotskyism because that is how many identify 
their tradition. 

The law of value was in full effect when the Soviets traded in the world 
market. It is true that Lenin said the bourgeoisie was going to sell us the rope 
used to hang it. It is equally true that the bourgeoisie sets the price or 
value relations for the rope being sold to the Soviet proletariat. If rope cost 
the equivalent of 1,000 pounds of grain then to are going to pay this cost - 
price, or not get the rope. 

Serious question of political economy exist when looking at the old Soviet 
union. Socialist accumulation meant accumulating what every is necessary to 
build an industrial society without the bourgeois property relations. The 
backwardness of Soviet industry in the 1920s meant that the only serious products that 
could be traded on the world markets for industrial machinery and technology 
were agricultural. In this sense the Soviets entered the world value 
relationship on the basis of their peasants or squeezing the agricultural population. 

Lenin stated over and over that socialism could be established with the 
stroke of a pen in the hands of the proletariat, but building socialism as an 
industrial system is a different matter.  

The Soviet Union was an industrial economy and a value producing system in 
transition. The law of value was restricted by a political act. Property 
relations were in fact changed from the bourgeois property relations. 

Melvin P. 

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