[Marxism] [UCE] Re: [pen-l] Fwd: Debates within ecosocialism: John Bellamy Foster, Jason Moore and CNS | Louis Proyect: The

Joseph Green jgreen at communistvoice.org
Tue Jun 21 11:17:30 MDT 2016

Fred Murply wrote:
> I don't read the passage below in Foster's 2005 intro as "promoting
> virtues";
    Foster also said in the same 2005 article that

   "Yet, it [The Soviet Union] remained a post-revolutionary society 
distinguished in many ways from capitalism. Competition between enterprises 
played almost no role in the economic workings of Soviet society. Private 
ownership of the means of production had been abolished. Unemployment was 
virtually non-existent. Many basic social amenities were guaranteed.

   "Despite its veering away from socialist goals, the Russian Revolution´s 
expropriation of capitalist private property, followed by the creation of a 
distinct post-revolutionary society, constituted a grave threat to 
capitalism, especially if other peoples were thereby encouraged to follow the 
same path."

    So on one hand, Foster denounces some features of later Soviet society; 
on the other hand, he still holds it's a "post-revolutionary society", a 
threat to capitalism, etc.  It's shameless when someone who knows the crimes 
of the system apologizes for it; but that's what Foster does. 

   Indeed, Foster goes on to repeat the tired old propaganda from the Soviet 
revisionists about themselves; he refuses to look deeply into these claims. 
Thus, Foster writes that  "Competition between enterprises played almost no 
role in the economic workings of Soviet society." This is an important part 
of Foster's view of late Soviet society; it's part of why he believes it's a 
model for environmental planning which we need today.

    But in fact, under the Soviet system of "Khozraschet" (self-financing), 
both making a profit and competing with other enterprises were major facts of 
the Soviet economic system. It worked in a somewhat different way than it 
does in Western capitalism, and there was a somewhat cloaked form of 
competition, but the rampant anarchy of production in the Stalinist and later 
Soviet system are well-known. Serious economists studying the Soviet Union, 
economists with varied political trends, recognized this, and differed mainly 
in their explanation of why it took place. 

You, FM, cite his criticism of the Soviet system and his historical account 
(which is more like a series of apologies and excuses for what happened), but 
you leave out the fact that he regards it as a model anyway.

Appendix: On competition between enterprises in the Soviet Union

It's a commonplace in certain circles to say, as Foster does,  that there was 
little competition between enterprises in the Soviet Union. But it's not 
true. One serious study of the Soviet economy after another showed the 
widespread anarchy of production that existed. It's widely known that it 
wasn't true that competition had been overcome.  Soviet managers themselves 
knew it wasn't true. They had to compete, and compete hard, if they were to 
survive in their positions.

In an article I wrote on the anarchy of production in the Stalinist and later 
Soviet system, I pointed out the following situation:

"For one thing, when one looks closely at the Soviet system, one finds a 
swirling struggle of manager against manager and factory against factory 
underneath the overall planning by the ministries. ...  

"In one form or another, this  continued after the First Five Year Plan. It 
was so widely recognized that managers openly wrote about it in the Soviet 
trade journals and newspapers. They said that they had to violate the law and 
the planning directives in order to fulfill their obligations under the plan. 
Even during the height of the bloody repression of the mid-1930s, when 
economic managers were among those most vulnerable to arrest, imprisonment, 
or even execution, they continued to write about how they flouted the law. 
One professor, David Granick, who has studied Soviet management extensively, 
wrote that:

. " 'In actual fact, plant directors have possessed great authority. But in 
theory, they have not; and so they have constantly struggled to legitimize 
their power. During the course of this perennial battle, they have often felt 
sufficiently self-confident to ridicule publicly the laws they were 
violating. Even at the height of the 1930's purges, there were some plant 
directors who went out of their way to write signed articles in the national 
press describing how, in their own work, they had been violating both the law 
and instructions from superiors, announcing that they considered these 
violations to be quite proper, and stating flatly that in the future they had 
every intention of continuing and even extending the violations. '(27)

"It might be said that this shows the extreme pressure to fulfill the 
mandated plan. And indeed, it was one thing to write in the Soviet press 
about how one moved mountains to fulfill the plan, and another to make 
excuses about why the plan wasn't fulfilled. (28) However, if an enterprise 
fulfilled the plan by obtaining supplies outside the plan, it thereby 
disrupted the planned supply of other enterprises. If this became 
commonplace, which it did, ... it made a mockery of the planned flow of 
producer goods from one factory to another. This type of plan fulfillment 
resembles the push of Western firms to make a profit no matter what the 
effect on other firms. Moreover, the comparison extends even further. The 
payment or prestige of the Soviet manager was just as dependent on plan 
fulfillment as that of the Western manager is on profitability.

"This problem was never overcome right up to the dissolution of the Soviet 
Union. The lack of guaranteed supply gave rise to a special type of 
executive, the 'expediter', whose job was to actually obtain the raw 
materials and supplies that the enterprise was supposed to receive under the 
plan. The 'expediter' remained a part of the Soviet economy right up to the 
end. The historian Alec Nove, writing in the 1980s about the Soviet economy, 
said that:

" '.  .  . We will be repeatedly examining the causes of persistent supply 
shortages in subsequent chapters. Their existence gives rise to the 
phenomenon of the tolkach, the 'pusher,' expediter, unofficial supply agent, 
who nags, begs, borrows, bribes, to ensure that the needed supplies actually 
arrive.' "(29) 

from "The anarchy of production beneath the veneer of Soviet revisionist 
planning", March 1997

Notes 27-29:
27. Granick, The Red Executive/A study of the Organization Man in Russian 
Industry, 1960, Ch.10, "Bureaucracy and how to live with it", pp. 134-5. 

28. Granick, Management of the Industrial Firm in the USSR/A Study in 
Economic Planning, 1954, p. 117.

29. Alec Nove, The Soviet Economic System, third edition, 1986, ch. IV 
"Industrial Management and Microeconomic Problems", p. 95. Professor Nove 
attributes this problem to the supposed impossibility of the social planning 
of production as a whole, a theme which he returns to repeatedly not just in 
this book but in other ones as well, whereas I attribute it to the class 
structure in the Soviet economy. Bourgeois ideologists, including serious 
historians of a reformist bent, such as Nove, attribute to "planning" in the 
abstract the specific features that flow from state-capitalism. I hope to 
deal with this issue in the future. <>

More information about the Marxism mailing list