[Marxism] work-needs

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Jul 10 17:21:37 MDT 2008

From: http://www.columbia.edu/%7Elnp3/mydocs/state_and_revolution/cuba.htm

Che Guevara had some of the most interesting insights into the 
problems of socialist construction since the days of Lenin. He is 
better known as a guerrilla fighter, but his essays on planning and 
other economic matters deserve to be better known.

The main importance of Guevara is that he provides an alternative to 
the false dichotomy set up between Stalinist "planning" and the 
implicitly capitalist logic of "market socialism". During our fierce 
debate over "market socialism" on the Marxism list, any number of 
Guevara's statements could have been brought to bear on the discussion.

Guevara was a stickler for accounting and controls, as was Lenin. At 
a speech given to a ceremony to winners of socialist emulation awards 
in the Ministry of Industry in October of 1965, he described the 
importance of controls:

"Rigorous controls are needed throughout the entire organizational 
process. These controls begin at the base, in the production unit. 
They require statistics that one can feel confident are exact, as 
well as good habits in using statistical data. It's necessary to know 
how to use statistics. These are not just cold figures--although 
that's what they are for the majority of administrators today, with 
the exception of output figures. On the contrary, these figures must 
contain within them an entire series of secrets that must be 
unveiled. Learning to interpret these secrets is the task of the day.

"Controls should also be applied to everything related to inventories 
in a unit or enterprise: the quantity on hand of raw materials, or, 
let's say, of spare parts or finished goods. All this should be 
accounted for precisely and kept up to date. This kind of accounting 
must never be allowed to slip. It is the sole guarantee that we can 
carry on work with minimal chance of interruption, depending on the 
distance our supplies have to travel.

"To conduct inventory on a scientific basis, we also have to keep 
track of the stock of basic means of production. For example, we must 
take inventory of all the machinery a factory possesses, so that this 
too can be managed centrally. This would give a clear idea of a 
machine's depreciation--that is, the period of time over which it 
will wear out, the moment at which it should be replaced. We will 
also find out if a piece of machinery is being underutilized and 
should be moved to some other place.

"We have to make an increasingly detailed analysis of costs, so that 
we will be able to take advantage of the last particle of human labor 
that is being wasted. Socialism is the rational allocation of human labor.

"You can't manage the economy if you can't analyze it, and you can't 
analyze it if there is no accurate data. And there is no accurate 
data, without a statistical system with people accustomed to 
collecting data and transforming it into numbers."

Guevara had confidence that socialism could be built if the proper 
resources and management were allocated to the task. He believed in 
technology and progress. Like Lenin, he admired many of the 
accounting and management breakthroughs found in the advanced 
capitalist countries.

Lenin was preoccupied with these matters immediately after the birth 
of the new Soviet state and minced no words about the value of strict 
accounting controls. In the "Immediate Tasks of the Soviet 
Government" written in the spring of 1918, Lenin said:

"The state, which for centuries has been an organ for oppression and 
robbery of the people, has left us with a legacy of the people's 
supreme hatred and suspicion of everything that is connected with the 
state. It is very difficult to overcome this, and only a Soviet 
government can do it. Even a Soviet government, however, will require 
plenty of time and enormous perseverance to accomplish it. This 
'legacy' is especially apparent in the problem of accounting and 
control--the fundamental problem facing the socialist revolution on 
the morrow of the overthrow of the bourgeoisie. A certain amount of 
time will inevitably pass before the people, who feel free for the 
first time now that the landowners and the bourgeoisie have been 
overthrown, will understand--not from books, but from their own, 
Soviet experience--will understand and feel that without 
comprehensive state accounting and control of the production and 
distribution of goods, the power of the working people, the freedom 
of the working people, cannot be maintained, and that a return to the 
yoke of capitalism is inevitable."

Those with a superficial understanding of Soviet economic history 
might assume that the link between Lenin and Guevara is Stalin. The 
popular notion we have of Stalin surrounded by technocrats planning 
out every last detail of each five year plan to the last turbine in 
the last electrical generating plant is nothing but a myth. Stalin 
was opposed to planning, accounting and controls.

Stalin chose arbitrary target-dates for big projects and demanded 
their completion on schedule. His main interest was getting the job 
done, no matter how slipshod the results. Every plan submitted to him 
was speeded up. The professionals who prepared the plans were 
appalled. Eventually Molotov got rid of these professionals and 
replaced them with yes-men.

The unplanned character of the Soviet economy forced continuous 
compensations and administrative controls. If a construction crew 
would not work twelve hours a day to complete a road, then additional 
foremen and cops were necessary to control them. As more and more 
bottlenecks appeared, more and more "interventions" were required to 
keep the whole ungainly machine going. Thus a command economy built 
on a centralized pyramid model grew up in the 1930s. This had nothing 
to do with Lenin's original intent.

When the Cuban revolution was in its infancy, economists in the 
Soviet bloc were grappling with the aftermath of Stalin's command 
economy. Their tendency was propose that markets be introduced in 
order to make these top-heavy economies more efficient. They thought 
that the market could make better investment decisions than a bureaucrat.

In many cases, the market socialists took inspiration from the NEP of 
the early 1920s. Wlodzimiers Brus, a Polish economist, wrote the following:

"The adoption of the New Economic Policy partially changed the 
situation among theoreticians. It became necessary to work out 
theoretically the function of the forms of market relations between 
city and countryside, along with the consequences stemming from the 
resurgence of the commodity-monetary economy in the socialist sector 
itself (economic accounting). Analysis of the market and of the 
conclusions for planning was to occupy an important place in both 
economic policy and theoretical discussions. The question of money 
was taken up.

"The first signs began to appear at the time of a change in opinion 
among Marxist economists on the relationship between the plan and the 
market. For some, the idea that the market and commodity-money forms 
were the opposite of planning began to be transformed into the 
conception of the market as a mechanism under the plan."

Guevara resisted the temptation to adopt NEP-like mechanisms. He saw 
the consequences of market reforms in Eastern Europe in the mid- 
1960s and understood their underlying capitalist logic. On a trip to 
Yugoslavia in 1959, he characterized the situation as one in which, 
"In broad strokes, with an element of caricature, you could describe 
Yugoslav society as managerial capitalism with socialist distribution 
of the profits." The model for Cuba would not be the NEP or current- 
day Yugoslavia or Poland, but the original vision Lenin had for the 
Soviet Union: planning within the context of a socialist and 
egalitarian society.

Guevara laid out his main ideas on socialist construction in a 
so-called "budgetary finance system." According to Carlos Tablada, 
author of "Che Guevara: Economics and Politics in the Transition to 
Socialism", Cuba would draw upon the following measures to make a 
planned economy work:

--advanced accounting techniques that permitted a better system of 
controls and an efficient, centralized management; as well as studies 
and practical application of methods of centralization and 
decentralization by the monopoly corporations;

--computer technology applied to the economy and management, and the 
application of mathematical methods to the economy;

--techniques of programming production and production controls;

--use of budgetary techniques as an instrument of financial planning 
and controls;

--techniques of economic controls through administrative means;

--the experience of the socialist countries.

Che summed up the spirit of the system as follows:

"We propose a centralized system of economic management based on 
rigorous supervision within the enterprises, and, at the same time, 
conscious supervision by their directors. We view the entire economy 
as one big enterprise. In the framework of building socialism, our 
aim is to establish collaboration between all the participants as 
members of one big enterprise, instead of treating each other like 
little wolves."

If accounting and controls was all there was to Guevara's concept of 
socialism, we would be unimpressed. After all, isn't what the United 
States and other advanced capitalist countries going through today 
nothing but an exercise in bottom-line mentality. Wouldn't Guevara's 
seeming obsession with efficiency and control crush the human spirit? 
At the same time he was writing articles on the necessity to 
introduce technology into the Cuban economy, students at Berkeley 
University, many of whom were sympathetic to the Cuban revolution, 
were demanding not to be "mutilated, folded or spindled." The 
mid-1960s were a period when large-scale computing had begun to be 
felt everywhere, including the liberal arts universities.

Key to understanding the relationship between the overall goal of 
efficiency and the importance of putting people first can be found in 
Guevara's approach to the Marxist category of value. It would be 
value that would mediate between society and the economy.

Simply put, Guevara believed that the law of value operates as a 
"blind, spontaneous force" under capitalism. Socialism, on the other 
hand, would allow conscious action upon the law of value in 
accordance with an understanding of the greater needs of society. In 
his Manual of Political Economy, Guevara spells out the way the 
socialist state can make use of the law of value.

"We consider the law of value to be partially operative because 
remnants of the commodity society still exist. This is also reflected 
in the type of exchange that takes place between the state as 
supplier and as the consumer. We believe that particularly in a 
society such as ours, with a highly developed foreign trade, the law 
of value on an international scale must be recognized as a fact 
governing commercial transactions, even within the socialist camp. We 
recognize the need for this trade to assume a higher form in 
countries of the new society, to prevent a widening of the 
differences between the developed and the more backward countries as 
a result of the exchange. In other words, it is necessary to develop 
terms of trade that permit the financing of industrial developments 
even if it contravenes the price systems prevailing in the capitalist 
world market. This would allow the entire socialist camp to progress 
more evenly, which would naturally have the effect of smoothing off 
the rough edges and of unifying the spirit of proletarian internationalism.

"We reject the possibility of consciously using the law of value in 
the absence of a free market that automatically expresses the 
contradiction between producers and consumers. We reject the 
existence of the commodity category in relations among state 
enterprises. We consider all such establishments to be part of the 
single large enterprise that is the state (although in practice this 
has not yet happened in our country). The law of value and the plan 
are two terms linked by a contradiction and its resolution. We can 
therefore state that centralized planning is the mode of existence of 
socialist society, its defining characteristic, and the point at 
which man's consciousness is finally able to synthesize and direct 
the economy toward its goal--the full liberation of the human being 
in the framework of communist society." 

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