On the Object of Political Economy


The determination of the Object of Political Economy of Socialism and its place in the totality of social sciences has been a subject of long years of discussion in the Soviet Union and abroad among economists and Marxist theoreticians. Indeed, the materials in hand touch upon political economic questions of all the stages of development of the Soviet economy and the state, and are in themselves a wide ranging documentary material, that give evidence and reflect on one hand, on the real process of evolution of the economic base; on the other hand, on the shifts among classes facilitated by the former. The Marxist theoreticians cannot but see in the history of political economy of socialism an expression of class struggle within the Soviet society, because in our analysis we are grounded in Marxist and not any other theory.

Economic discussions compare different perceptions that are an embodiment of the strivings of different social groups and classes drawn into the process of socialist transformation and building of a new society. Otherwise, we would be dealing with such superficial and vulgar perception of these discussions as the purely theoretical, academic arguments between economists and politicians isolated from reality. We also have during the first stage of the Soviet state's development, economic discussions that touched upon the most vital problems of socialist construction and which analysed the contradictoriness of the socio-economic situation. In as much as we are not considering any political figures in isolation from the socio-economic situation and more so as we consider their political activities as being determined by the latter, it is impossible not to discern something more fundamental in these discussions than just a struggle of particular theoretical models and perceptions as a result of the creative activities of thinkers.

The nature of the theoretical differences between the Trotskyist-Bukharinite theses of the 'left' opposition and the Leninist concept of the transition from capitalism to socialism were laid bare in their own time. Whether the Trotskyite concepts supporting the presentation of the main elements of the economy of war communism were a mistake which did not satisfy the requirement of that historical moment of revolutionary Russia is a problem which cannot be resolved by means of abstractions from the conditions from which they emerged.

It is natural to suppose that we are talking about Trotsky's attitude as a personality towards revolution and the construction of a new society and the liquidation of classes that is based on more than the questionable moral and political principles of Trotsky. Without doubt, the totality of subjective factors plays an important role with Trotsky. But it would be an unpardonable mistake to explain everything by these factors, by isolating the persona of Trotsky as a political activist and theoretician from the social forces that stood behind him.

Trotsky's vacillations over the full length of his political career are well known. What concerns the communists, it must be clear, is that the 'leftism' of Trotsky on the question of the immediate transition to commodity-less relations between town and countryside was of a very temporary nature, and was determined by the requirements of the time. During the thirties it was said that there occurred the merging in their essence of Bukharinism and Trotskyism which found its full expression in the end of the 1920's during the great change and full scale collectivisation. Both Bukharin and Trotsky were in principle against conducting the reforms by 'administrative methods', and opined that the market must regulate the relations between the town and the countryside, etc. 'The plan is checked and, to a considerable degree, realized through the market'.1 The works of Trotsky of the 1930's are valuable material that show the similarity of the theses of Bukharin and Trotsky on the question of socialist construction. It was the ideology of counter-revolution in the Soviet Union.

Despite the successful and timely exposure of Trotsky's opportunism and its organic similarity with Bukharinism in the Soviet Union, the language of Trotskyism found favour abroad, especially after the death of Stalin. It is natural that huge numbers of publications were published of Trotsky's writings.

Especially wide circulation was ensured to the opportunist thesis that Stalin allegedly legalised the preservation of commodity-money relations which was, as implied, a result of the adventurist policy of universal collectivisation and was a retreat of the workers before the peasantry and the bureaucracy headed by Stalin. Trotsky, cunningly, attributed this phenomenon to a more general rule of historical development, and precisely, to that which says that every revolution is followed by counter-revolution. In this fashion, too, Stalin's position is put on par with the changes brought by Khrushchev and Brezhnev, and the latter are considered to be the consequence of the former. In the same spirit, the Khrushchevite-Brezhnevite ideologues considered any attempt at limiting the sphere of commodity-money relations in the Soviet Union and the countries of people's democracy as 'leftist' aspirations, pregnant with Trotskyism. Here before us we have two sides of the same revision of Marxism-Leninism - a vicious circle of revisionism.

With Bukharinism it is simpler for the reason that it is more consistent, honest and literate, as compared with the first. Bukharin's theses are incomparably more valuable material for a study of the history of establishing the political economy of socialism as a scientific discipline as well as of its object. The roots and the genesis of the Khrushchevite-Brezhnevite revisionist theses are laid bare regarding the construction of socialist society, the interpretation of the nature of class contradictions and the manner of dealing with them, which finds its direct expression in its understanding of the fundamental questions of the political economy of socialism. Its value for contemporary Marxist theoreticians lies in the fact that Bukharin's views in essence contain the whole of the post-Stalin political economy of socialism.

It is not incidental that this surprising fact was noted by Stalin in his work 'The Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR'. He spoke of a spontaneous resurrection of the Bogdanov-Bukharin views among Soviet economists on a large scale during the end of the 1940's and early 1950's. The discussions of 1951 were hidden by the Khrushchevite-Brezhnevite ideologues as a consequence of which they were not made known to almost two generations and only now are being made accessible.

Even today, despite the new acceptability of the role of Stalin's personality among the communists one can discern a reluctance to make serious revaluation of Stalin as a theoretician of Marxism-Leninism, and in particular we see a very superficial knowledge of his last work 'The Economic Problems.' One cannot ignore this serious shortcoming in the contemporary Russian communist movement which is a legacy of the Khrushchevite-Brezhnevite critique of Stalin's political economy.

Very soon after the restoration of the post-war economy, as a consequence of creating qualitatively new conditions in the Soviet economy a fundamentally new type of objective was formulated, viz. the construction of a communist society. This is vividly borne out in the speech by Malenkov at the XIX Congress of the CPSU(b). There are documents which show that plans for building a Communist society in the Soviet Union existed even in 1941 before the start of the war. Serious intentions of restoring these plans were expressed in the post-war period.2

However, the situation in the humanitarian sciences left much room for improvement and if we were to judge by the scale of the evolution of views we can rightly assume that Stalin was dealing not with the partial mistakes of the theoreticians, but with a genuine deviation.

The crushing defeat of fascist Germany and the accelerated restoration of the national economy at growth rates never before witnessed in human history allowed the Soviet Union to finally establish and confirm the superiority of socialism over capitalism and this led to the spread of the belief among Soviet economists, including those in the highest echelons of the Academy of Sciences, that the Soviet state was omnipotent, as if the Soviet state could, at its own will, restructure the economic base without any consideration to the objective laws of economics. Many Soviet economists saw themselves as bringing about the end of political economy as an independent scientific discipline by establishing a high road, according to their own ideas, that would lead to the construction of a Communist society. In reality this meant voluntarism and subjectivism in economics and a restoration of Bogdanov-Bukharinist political economy.

What facilitated this outbreak of voluntarism and subjectivism among the foremost Soviet economists might not be a very simple problem to discover. In any case subjectivism proved to be very attractive simply because it served as an unusual force for undermining the scientific basis that was laid as a result of decades of accumulated experience and scientific endeavour in the struggle against both right and left-wing deviations in the party. Judging by the materials and documents of the time, the economic discussion and, so to speak, the offensive on all theoretical fronts that was taking place before the death of Stalin, were altogether brought to a halt already by the end of 1953.


After Stalin's death it was officially declared that the dictatorship of the proletariat had outlived itself under the conditions achieved by the Soviet system towards the end of the 1950's and the beginning of the 1960's. It was an 'historical event' in the history of the Soviet state. The dictatorship of the proletariat as a function of the Soviet state, in the opinion of the contemporary revisionists, did not any more coincide with the concrete historical conditions and, specifically, to the new social structure of the Soviet society. Such, finally, was the objective of the Khrushchevite-Brezhnevite ideologues. They wanted to build a base for the necessity of transition of the Soviet state to a qualitatively new form - the all people's form - in complete contradiction to the concepts of the classics on the question of building a Communist society and the approach to the resolution of non-antagonistic class contradictions within the socialist society.

Without going into an enquiry of the content of the economic reforms of the post-Stalin period, the objective of this paper is to direct the attention of communists to the organic links between the spread of anti-Marxist views among Soviet economists in the late 1940's and early 1950's, that represented a restoration of Bogdanov-Bukharinite political economy and the 'economic science' of Khrushchevite-Brezhnevite revisionism. The former, at least, was strongly rebuffed by the Soviet state. However, the death of Stalin allowed a spontaneous and quiet growth away from Marxism-Leninism to take place. It permitted the building of a 'valid' ground for the dictatorship of the proletariat to outlive itself and then its further development as the new 'social science', which could lead to the destruction of the socialist mode of production and restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union.

Statements about the dictatorship of the proletariat outliving itself were accompanied by subjective views about the victory of socialism being final and irreversible, i.e. all possibilities of capitalist restoration had disappeared in the Soviet Union. It was assumed that with the liquidation of antagonist classes, private ownership of the means of production and, also, with the final transition in the ownership of the means of production, the class differences had also disappeared, i.e. classes in general, and therefore the dictatorship of the proletariat was not a necessity any more. The existence of social differences inherent to a socialist society, the fading away of social differences is carried out in the process of a conscious action by the Soviet state (all people's) which had an impact on the socio economic processes. The socialist system is characterised by the absence of exploitation of man by man, and therefore presents itself as a system of social ties based on collectivism, mutual support, comradely cooperation of people free from exploitation etc. etc. However, in the framework of this concept the presence of 'social differences' and their resolution were shifted into the background (the main objective of the socialist society was considered to be the creation of the material-technical base of communism).

The process of the withering away of the differences between the town and the countryside, intellectual and manual labour, and the social differences between the workers, collective farmers and the intelligentsia was seen as a continuous process devoid of any contradictions, except those called forth by the technical development in itself and the growth of the productive forces. In essence it was assumed that the transition from socialism to communism was going to be an evolutionary process, because in a socialist society there were no class contradictions, and only the differences and boundaries between existing social groups are obliterated.

Modern day revisionists equate the liquidation of class antagonisms, as a consequence of the liquidation of the private capitalist system in the economy that allows for a possible expropriation of another's labour, with the disappearance of class contradictions themselves.

'Antagonism and contradiction are not one and the same thing. The former disappear, while the latter exists under socialism.' (Lenin)3

Indeed, antagonism and contradictions are not one and the same thing, and therefore, overcoming the first does not lead to overcoming the other. This is the point of departure for the Marxist-Leninist interpretation of the object of the political economy of socialism. It is to be noted that Lenin's notes on Bukharin's book Economics of the Transition Period were first published in 1929 and played an important role in the critique of Bukharinism, which was very widespread among Soviet economists in the twenties.

Marx foretold the inevitability of the liquidation of the capitalist system, its being replaced by a socialist system and the establishment of new socialist production relations. The basic contradiction of the capitalist form of production is based on the private nature of ownership of the means of production, which comes into contradiction with the social character of the productive forces that have emerged within the former. Also, the liquidation of the capitalist form of production passes through the break up of the old productive relations and their being replaced by new and qualitatively different kind of relations.

The replacement of capitalist relations of production by socialist relations occurs by means of a revolution, a social shake up, i.e. it happens in the form of a leap. The old production relations transform themselves from being a form of development of productive forces to a limiting factor, as a result of which a social revolution becomes objectively inevitable.

The replacement of capitalist production relations by the new socialist relations happens in the course of a revolution. The precondition for the destruction of capitalist relations is the capture of the (state) power by the working class, which is accomplished in the form of a violent upheaval. Further, the expropriation of the exploiting classes including the kulaks is conducted by violent means and under compulsion, in the language of Bukharin, by extra-economic pressure by the working class represented by the Soviet state.

But this does not mean that all revolutionary transformations in general are accomplished by violent social upheavals. The leap-like qualitative transition is not necessarily accompanied by social upheavals. The equating of revolutionary transformations with violent upheavals leads us to a negation of the most fundamental of the dialectics of non-antagonistic processes, viz, the existence of contradictions between the old and the new, the developing and the dying, the struggle of the opposites as the source of the development of socialist society. Modern day revisionists and Bukharin are in agreement in the main - building of a classless socialist society and its development towards communism must occur along an evolutionary path. By elevating the moment of the unity of classes to a position of an absolute they ignore the moment of contradictions in a socialist society.

The struggle of the opposites within the Soviet socialist society has a different content than under capitalism. Under capitalism classes that have outlived their utility exist and they are capable of organising resistance. Further development of productive forces can happen only on the precondition of destruction of these classes, as the old production relations make their growth impossible. The contradictions between the production relations and the productive forces under capitalism is intensified not by force of class antagonisms. But antagonism and contradiction are not one and the same.

'Socialist production relations, dictatorship of the proletariat open infinite possibilities for the development of the society. The hurdles that stand in the way of development of socialist society are of an altogether different kind from those under capitalism: these are the remnants of capitalism in the consciousness of the people, different manifestations of underdevelopment, values alien to socialism etc., which, if not resisted, are capable of slowing down development'.4

The struggle of the opposites is different under socialism, as conditions exist for a timely bringing of the lagging production relations in to conformity with the nature of the productive forces without allowing the situation to deteriorate into a conflict, as there are no reactionary classes capable of organising resistance. Further development of the productive forces under socialism is possible only by resolving its contradictions, even though the contradictions are not antagonistic in nature.

Modern revisionists are of the opinion that the final victory over capitalism is achieved by destroying the private ownership of the means of production in the economy, and see the liquidation of class antagonism as being the same as the disappearance of all class contradictions. Do the contradictions capable of slowing the development of productive forces disappear with the disappearance of private ownership of the means of production? Does the construction of socialism fulfill its objective when the capitalist elements in the economy are liquidated?

'...State ownership of the productive forces is not the solution of the conflict, but concealed within it are the technical conditions that form the elements of that solution.

'The solution can only consist in the practical recognition of the social nature of the modern forces of production, and therefore in the harmonising of the modes of production, appropriation, and exchange with the socialised character of the means of production. And this can only come about by society openly and directly taking possession of the productive forces which have outgrown all control except that of society as a whole....'5

After all the objective is to bring the mode of production, appropriation and exchange in 'conformity with the social character of the means of productions.' Therefore along with the existence of the state and social sector we should not ignore the collective farm sector.

'...Of course, our present relations of production are in a period when they fully conform to the growth of the productive forces and help to advance them at seven-league strides. But it would be wrong to rest easy at that and to think that there are no contradictions between our productive forces and the relations of production. There certainly are, and will be, contradictions, seeing that the development of the relations of production lags, and will lag behind the development of the productive forces.'6

It is not possible not to see in the existence of the collective form of property, and commodity circulation the elements that slow down the development of the productive forces as the Soviet economic practice of the post-Stalin era shows (continuous fall of the rates of growth of the economy) is possible only on the basis of the promotion of the collective property to the level of all people's property and by slowly replacing commodity circulation by products-exchange. Precisely in the withering away of the commodity-money relations as a form of economic ties we see the creation of one of the necessary preconditions for the final obliteration of class differences in a socialist society. Soviet ideologues of the post-Stalin era considered labour in the Soviet Union as directly social labour, a striking contradiction, when everything produced in the Soviet Union according to them took the form of a commodity. They did not see any grounds for the strengthening of values alien to socialism in the functioning of commodity-money relations.


It was assumed that the Soviet state by its very nature was capable of organising the productive forces. On the whole the study of the system of productive forces stopped playing the role in political economy which the classics had distinguished. The Soviet economists of the post-Stalin period had largely stopped viewing the production relations as an object of the political economy of socialism or, at best, only partially preserved the Marxist-Leninist formulation of the object of political economy, and had pushed to the foreground the problem of organization of the productive forces. It is to be noted that the Soviet economists never considered the issue of the object of political economy of socialism as one that has been closed as it is evident from the theoretical discussions right up to the period of perestroika. No, this was just the formal aspect of the problem. In our view the Soviet ideologues started their inquiry from the necessity of a transition to an all people's state, the absence of class contradictions with all its consequences, in particular, the anti-Marxist interpretation of the object of the political economy of socialism.

A thesis that was very widely accepted among the Soviet economists of the post-Stalin era was that the classics had left the question of the object of political economy of socialism unresolved, that only a 'creative development' of Marxism-Leninism would allow the completion of the theoretical formulation of the concept of transformation of socialism into communism. That was how they considered the theoretical formulations of the 1950's and onwards, which embraced the concept of an all people's state as the greatest theoretical accomplishment.

Determining the object of political economy of socialism is of great importance for the theoretical exposition of the concept of transition from socialism to communism and outlines the high road for developing the categories of political economy of socialism. The tendency to introduce commodity-money relations was accompanied on the part of the economists by a contemptuous attitude towards an examination of the system of relations between people.

A study of the production relations was forced into the background, and in the meanwhile, most of the theoreticians had come to an agreement regarding a modification and widening of the definition of the object of the political economy of socialism.

Stalin in his observations on Yaroshenko put forward the classical definition of the object of the political economy:

'The province of political economy is the production, the economic, relations of men. It includes: a) the forms of ownership of the means of production; b) the status of the various social groups in production and their inter-relations that follow from these forms, or what Marx calls: "Mutual exchange of their activities", c) the forms of distribution of products, which are entirely determined by them. All these together constitute the province of political economy.'7

Naturally, the definition given by the classics and put forward by Stalin during the economic discussions of the early 1950's, for reasons that we understand, could not have satisfied the ideologues and creators of the concept of the all people's state. This definition was considered by the theoreticians of the late 1950's as one-sided, in other words as primitive. By the way, only in this sphere did they see Stalin's primitiveness and dogmatism in the interpretation of the classics. To Ostrovityanov Stalin appeared to be crude end obtuse. Stalin did not 'understand' the important changes in the economic base at the new stage of development, that led to a review of the role and place of the categories of political economy, in particular, of commodity-money relations. They stubbornly continued to assert that the absence of private capitalist appropriation of labour led to the disappearance of all grounds for any contradictions, which had a direct impact on the question of the object of political economy of socialism.

It was commonly said (and still is) that having put forward his definition, Stalin showed how superficial and dogmatic was his interpretation of the classics, his incapacity to understand the basic laws of society's historical development at the new stage of development. By justifying themselves in this way, the advocates of this view wanted to put themselves above the uncompromising struggle between the two mutually exclusive systems of thought, between the consistent line of Lenin and the revisionist line of Bogdanov and Bukharin which was alien to the spirit of Marxism and which simply vulgarised and negated Marxism.

The opportunist ideologues of the Khrushchev-Brezhnev period, while criticizing the right wing in words and only formally agreeing to a small extent with Stalin, considered the latter's views as very limited and replete with serious flaws. They alleged that Stalin's concept was not adequate to the new conditions of the post-war stage when new mechanisms had come into operation, an analysis of which could be done only after Stalin's death.

Indeed by negating Stalin, they were negating Lenin. What they called the development of Marxism was nothing but a sorry reincarnation of Bogdanov-Bukharinite political economy, which by its very class nature, had the objective of destroying Marxism by 'drowning it in technical problems' and bypassing the central thesis - the examination of social relations between people in the course of production. Bukharin was being resurrected without saying so officially.

The classics and Stalin considered the system of property relations as part of production relations and said that the former played a determining role in the totality of socio-economic relations. Many theoreticians by accepting the unscientific propositions concerning the structure of socialist property where no differences were recognised between the state and collective forms of property and both were considered as being socialist, came to the conclusion that the structure of production relations had undergone a change, which determined the direction that the Soviet scientific and research studies must follow.

The Khrushchevites were cold towards the criticism of Yaroshenko. The Brezhnevites simply forgot all about it.

'Comrade Yaroshenko's chief error is that he forsakes the Marxist position on the question of the role of the productive forces and of the relations of production in the development of society, that he inordinately overrates the role of the productive forces, and just as inordinately underrates the role of relations of production, and ends up by declaring that under socialism the relations of production are a component part of the productive forces.'8

Then Stalin quotes Yaroshenko himself:

'...men's production relations become part of the organization of the productive forces, as a means, an element of their organization.'9

Yaroshenkoism further manifested itself resulting directly in a spreading tendency among Soviet economists to use capitalist categories in the socialist economy right to the extent of treating labour under socialism as a commodity etc.

The Khrushchevites formally disassociated themselves from Yaroshenkoism. Then what did the opportunists do? The Khrushchevite ideologues referred to Marx and argued that the production relations cannot be examined in isolation from productive forces but in their mutual relationship, with special emphasis on the moment of their unity. Further it was openly stated that political economy as a scientific discipline could not limit itself only to an examination of the production relations. They observed that a widening of the object of political economy did not mean equating it with the science of economics in general. This was done so as to avoid an 'unscientific' interpretation of the object of political economy by particular economists. Ostrovityanov and company had with great perfection learned, under the garb of 'Marxism-Leninism', to hide the resurrection of Bogdanov-Bukharinite teaching, as a result we see a struggle of revisionism against revisionism. And the party and the people must now be obliged to thank them.

It can be asserted with full confidence that great majority of the past Stalin economists agreed on the necessity of widening the sphere of the object of political economy in general and political economy of socialism in particular. They found the classical definition inadequate, and its limits were ascribed to Stalin (and not to Lenin, Marx or Engels). This is exactly what prevented the science of economics from examining the production relations and productive forces in their mutual dependence. Formally, though a paradox, this formulation allowed the possibility of examining the form of development of material production in mechanical isolation from its content as its passive form.

Contemporary revisionists assume that production relations must be examined in their organic relationship and mutual interaction with the productive forces, with special emphasis on the moment of their unity. Such a formulation put forward by itself is an unnecessary requirement. Marx considered production relations as a 'form' of social development of production10 and, therefore, proposed to examine them, in accordance with the dialectical method of an interaction between the form and content. The ideologues, according to the dictates of their reforms, formulated their thesis, which led to the assertion of the passive nature of production relations and their being absorbed by productive forces. Stalin noticed this tendency among Soviet economists and commented that: 'These (productive relations and productive forces, Ed.) are two different sides of social production, although they are inseparably connected with one another. And just because they constitute different sides of social production, they are able to influence one another. To assert that one of these sides may be absorbed by the other and be converted into its component part, is to commit a very grave sin against Marxism.'11

Mechanical interpretation was made of the classic thesis that productive forces are the most active component in social development, and that the existing 'new' socio-economic system (absence of class contradictions etc) led to ascribing a role that is subordinate to that of productive forces. The conclusion:

'Political economy examines the social aspect of production, that exists as a system of economic relations in its unity and interaction with the productive forces. In such an analysis the production relations are manifested as a social form of functioning and development of material production.12

In the framework of the new concept of socialist society the given definition in essence conformed to the definition given by Yaroshenko.

Instead of a Marxian political economy...' we get 'something in the nature of Bogdanov's "Universal Organizing Science"'13

What is it then that remains of the Marxist enquiry into the relations between people in the course of production, if these relations are just a form of productive forces and have no possibility of any reverse impact on the latter? The production relations become a passive form of its content - the productive forces. What, then, remains of the dialectical interaction between production relations and productive forces in the wake of such a mechanical interpretation of the interrelationship between form and its content?

It turns out that the statement 'The form of social process of production' is equal to 'The social form of functioning and development of production.' It all comes to the same: conformity is equal to subordination. According to Marx the production relations conform to the nature of the productive forces. The revisionists of today consider unity with production relations in an exaggerated unity with productive forces and conclude that the former are a social form of functioning of material production and consequently happen to be subordinate to the latter. What we get is that relations of conformity are transformed into one of subordination.

'Productive forces are merged with production relations.'14

Here is a comparison of Bukharin's 'merger' and 'unity' with the wise men of the Khrushchev-Brezhnevite reforms.

Naturally, an examination of production relations cannot be done in isolation from those pre-conditions by which they are facilitated, separately from the mode of production conforming with the given socio-economic system etc. We consider the latter to be evident in itself, as it is inherent in the Marxist methodology. It is precisely because of this that we can see in the absolutising of the 'unity' of production relations and productive forces nothing but an attempt to move the enquiry into the production relations into the background, and to bring it into subordination to the rationalisation of productive forces. It cannot be otherwise. What is the need then to 'creatively' develop Marxism along this path?

In general, it is appropriate to establish that the post-Stalin economists considered the object of political economy, the production relations between people as the passive form of social production. This led to subordinating the examination of production relations to the problems of rational organisation of productive forces, of problems of scientific and technical progress, questions of planning etc. This led to a negation of production relations as an object of independent study. And such was, in the end, the objective of Yaroshenko.


The most important step towards establishing the new political economy was the evolution of views on the role of the Soviet state, its ability to influence the economic processes. The activities of the Soviet state in economic organisation, embodied in its economic policy was a determining factor under socialism. The economic policy embraced all the spheres of economic life in the country. The experience of construction of socialism in the Soviet Union vividly proved this. The place of the economic policies of the Soviet state, the inter-relationship between the superstructure and its economic base is a question of fundamental significance.

The crushing victory over fascism was accomplished under a stable economic regime which gave considerable advantage to the Soviet military industry over the German, that had at its disposal almost all of Europe's human and economic resources. The convincing victory over Nazism, and in its wake the overfulfillment of the plans for the restoration of the people's economy were facts that were vivid evidence of the superiority of the socialist mode of production over capitalism. This is the concrete historical material within the framework of which we are obliged to conduct our enquiry of the evolution of views on the role of the state and its abilities to impinge on social and, in particular, economic life. Indeed, the preconditions for an interpretation of this issue were many and self-evident and it was not without basis that there existed the opinion that the state was omnipotent. What was unexpected, what was absolutely new in the history of Soviet science was the scale of these subjective and voluntaristic views in political economy which embraced the whole range of social sciences.

In political economy the works of N. Voznesensky are of great importance.

Who was N. Voznesensky?

Voznesensky was an economist, a party member, a member of the Academy of Sciences since 1940, he was awarded two Orders of Lenin, he was Chairman of Gosplan from 1938 to 1949, a Member of the Politbureau of the C.C. of the All-Union Communist Party (b) since 1949. Voznesensky was the author of various economic works, including the acclaimed work 'War Economy of the USSR in the Period of the Great Patriotic War' (1947). He played a very positive role in the 1930's in creating the political economy of socialism and in the struggle against Bukharinism in the sphere of economic theory.

The reason for his removal from the post of the chairman of the Gosplan was the reform of wholesale prices from 1 January 1949. The wholesale prices for industrial products, transport and services were increased on an average by twice more than the existing level, which has been confirmed by the documents from the archives of the Gosplan relating to the year 1949. In essence the reform meant an end to the subsidies to heavy industry and transition to the system of distribution according to labour between the sectors and branches of the national economy in conformity with the law of value. Therefore, the principle of profitability was introduced on a large scale in the functioning of state enterprises as a central lever of production and for increasing the productivity of labour.

Such is the significance of a universal price change and bringing it into conformity with value, price of production (cost of production + average profit). The Voznesensky case throws light on some very unclear questions, at least it becomes clear that Stalin did not become 'jealous' of him, which allegedly became a cause for his removal from various posts. To this one should add the hiding of important materials by Voznesensky relating to Gosplan's functioning.15 Moreover, according to documentary evidence, Stalin in 1949 first realised the seriousness of the problem, that opened the way to writing the 'Economic Problems', and a more mature interpretation of the problem of construction of communism in political economy.

All further functioning of the Gosplan was limited to drawing up of plans for a slow decrease in prices that were introduced on 1 January 1949, a process that continued till Stalin's death. It was not considered feasible to immediately lower prices to the level of 1948. This process was planned to be completed over a number of years.

Already on the 13th of March 1949 a declaration was made (a few weeks had passed after the reforms were initiated, having been planned without Stalin's knowledge de facto and the Council of Ministers) regarding the removal of Voznesensky from the post of Chairman of Gosplan and also from the Membership of the Politbureau. Only in November-December 1949 was Voznesensky arrested along with his brother and the group of Kuznetsov, Pochkov, Popov and Radikov. The allegation of having passed secret documents of Gosplan to a foreign state was also made. Voznesensky was sentenced to death in 1950 for betrayal of the motherland and shot on 30 September, 1950. The case was mixed up and confused with the so-called 'Leningrad case', which prevented many from knowing the real reasons for the removal, of Voznesensky from the post of the Chairman of the Gosplan. The other members of the 'Leningrad group' were rehabilitated after the death of Stalin. Popov was appointed the Ambassador to Poland in 1953, Shikin was awarded a medal in 1954. Later N. Voznesensky was declared to have been illegally prosecuted.16

In 'War Economy of the USSR during the Great Patriotic War' Voznesensky reproduced the anti-Marxist approach in the interpretation of the role of the state in the economy and played the most important role in spreading subjectivism and voluntarism in economic science and legitimised the new theoretical thinking. N. Voznesensky was a prophet of anti-Marxist thought of the post-war period. He touched upon a range of fundamental questions of political economy, including the question of the role and place of the state in a socialist economy:

'In the Soviet economy the source of the movement and development of the national economy is the Soviet state that conducts planning.'17

Further N. Voznesensky put forward his own definition of the object of political economy: '...Socialist planning, based on a rational use and application of economic laws of production and distribution, itself is a social law of development and in this capacity becomes the object of political economy.'18

As was mentioned earlier the objective of this work is to trace the organic link between the establishment of a new official system of views in political economy with the restoration of anti-Marxist formulations concerning the fundamental questions that preceded the former and were contained in the literature of that time. Many economists after the death of Stalin began to openly declare the illegality of the removal of Voznesensky from all the posts that he bad held, seeing in him a crusader for the cause of victory of the 'creative concept', which outgrew all the previous development of official thought on the questions of economics. It is not surprising that Voznesensky was rehabilitated soon after Stalin's death (even before the XX Congress), and along with him was rehabilitated his concept of the role of state planning that led to a rethinking of the most fundamental issue of political economy - its object.

The real reasons for Voznesensky's removal were not revealed either in 1949 or 1950 or indeed in 1951. His name was formally removed from the pages of scientific publications, but in reality, the anti-Marxist views of Voznesensky became very widespread among leading economists of that time (we call upon the communists to study the materials of the discussions from 1951 to the time of Stalin's death) and were not criticised until the publication of Stalin's work. Indeed the situation in the academic circles had gone out of control towards the beginning of the 1950's.

Here is the evidence:

'The journal Voprosi ekonomiki not only did not expose the subjective and idealist concepts in the sphere of political economy, but provided space for the propaganda of these incorrect views. The editors of the journal Voprosi ekonomiki made a serious mistake, by printing an editorial that heaped praises almost sky high on the anti-Marxist work of N. Voznesensky, which was nothing but a mixture of voluntaristic views on the role of the state and the plan in the Soviet society and made a fetish of the law of value, that was made out to be, as if, the regulator of distribution of labour among the branches of the national economy. Some of employees of the editing unit of the journal Voprosi ekonomiki started believing so much in the 'Marxism' of the anti-Marxist work of Voznesensky that they began to cite quotations right and left from his book in the pages of the journal.'19

As we witness, the Khrushchev-Brezhnevite concept of the role of the state in the economic processes had its direct roots in the unscientific and anti-Marxist formulations of the late 1940's and early 1950's which were subjected to severe criticism from the end of 1952 to March, 1953.

The activities of the state in planning was considered by the post-Stalin economists as a 'source of movement and development of the national economy' thereby absolutising the Soviet state. The element that could considerably slow down the development of the productive forces was ignored. The Soviet state was in a position, at its own will, to accomplish the objective of the transition to a Communist economy by a rational organisation of the productive forces and by planning the exploitation of the available resources, without any concern about the objective laws of development or for the fact, that under socialism there still existed a commodity economy and collective ownership, which already by the 1950's had become a fetter to further development.

It becomes clear that having declared the absence of class contradictions, the absence of substantial contradictions between the development of production relations and productive forces, the obstacles were cleared for spreading and widening the sphere of operation of the commodity-money relations (formally labour power was not considered as a commodity till the time of perestroika), even to the extent of considering the socialist economy as a commodity economy. The central place in the case for widening the sphere of operation of the categories of commodity economy in the Soviet economy belonged to the concept that exaggerated the role of the state and its ability to impinge upon the national economy, which was but a distortion of the Marxist-Leninist concept of the reverse impact of the superstructure on the economic base. The most outstanding criticism of this view was made during the short period from the end of 1952 to March of 1953.

'These employees began to think that since the anarchy of production and competition disappeared as a law of development, since the spontaneous nature of social life has been replaced by planned development of the economy, and the role of the organs, guiding the society, of the party and state has very considerably grown, so the society in the form of the state is capable of organising the economic life according to its own will without concerning itself with the objective laws of economic development. As the reverse impact of the superstructure on the base grows under socialism it served as a reason for many an employee to view the economic organisational activities of the Soviet State as a source of economic development and the economic development of the society that is the primary basis for society's existence, they started to count as something secondary and completely dependent on the will of the state'.20

The function of the omnipotent state that was already not fulfilling its function of the dictatorship of the proletariat, was divided into two groups, and precisely - into specifically political and specifically economic - that formed its economic policies. Formally the productive forces did interact through the production relations with the superstructure that were subject to influence of the Soviet state. Such a formulation certainly did not conform to the Marxist-Leninist perceptions on the state machine in general and the transition period in particular, despite all the assertions about the ambiguity and even contradictoriness of the classics on this question. Such a concept of the division of the state's functions into two sharply defined groups opened up possibilities for examining economic processes in isolation from the political and class content of the Soviet state. The economic base was seen as a unified whole, controlled by the plan, and designed by the omnipotent classless state. As a result the planning and organisational activities of the state were then isolated from its political activities. The division of state functions was now introduced. Further, the political policies of the state de facto became the main object of political economy.

Furthermore, the discussion centred around the inclusion of the policy of the state in the object of political economy. There were some economists, who still formally maintained that the state policies, being part of the superstructure should not be included in the object of political economy, but should be studied by other social sciences. But there were others who considered economic policy as one of the elements of the political economy of socialism. The latter openly accepted the Bogdanov-Bukharinite concept in the formulation of the object of the political economy of socialism given by Voznesensky:

'Certain economists come to the conclusion that the economic policy of the state is the most important compositional part of the object of political economy. This theory has received fairly widespread recognition.'21

Here we have, no less and no more, a struggle between various tendencies that had as their basis Voznesensky's concept of the role of the state. The whole tapestry of 'contemporary' political economy is full of anti-Marxist views that have provided adequate preconditions for the death of political economy as a scientific discipline.

The post-Stalin official ideologues only formally rejected Bukharin. They had become his followers. The criticism of Stalin's interpretation of the fundamentals of Marxian political economy was fraught with obstacles for the development of productive forces. The official ideologues had resurrected, in the system of Soviet social sciences in general and political economy in particular, the fundamental propositions of the theoreticians of the late 1940's and early 1950's that were, in their own time subjected to a severe scientific criticism by Stalin. The spread of these concepts paved the way for the negation of the existence of substantial contradictions in the process of growth, inherent non-antagonistic contradictions in the Soviet Union, and this inevitably led to the restoration of the capitalist order.

The contemporary communists must be very clear that the post-Stalin political economy accepted as its foundation a factual subordination of production relations to productive forces. The objectives of Khrushchev's ideologues was to make production relations a component of the productive forces and organisation and planning for the growth of the latter as the main problem facing the society. The theoretical 'achievements' of the second half of the 195O's became the core that generated Brezhnev's political economy, which still continues to exist in its various forms in the contemporary communist movement.

We, Marxists, do not consider the socialist socio-economic system as a separate socio-economic formation, as is accepted by the revisionists. We consider the main objective of socialism to be the obliteration of existing class contradictions and not so much the rational organisation of productive forces. In the language of political economy it can be said that the objective of communist construction consists in bringing the productive relations, that lag behind, into conformity with the growing productive forces. This requires a comprehensive examination of production relations.


  1. 'The Soviet Economy in Danger', in 'Writings of Leon Trotsky', [1932], New York, 1973, p. 274.
  2. Vijay Singh, 'Stalin and the Question of 'Market Socialism' in the Soviet Union after the Second World War', Paper submitted to the Seminar 'Stalin Today', Moscow. 1994, Revolutionary Democracy, Vol. I, No. 1, April, 1995, pp. 4-5.
  3. V.I. Lenin, 'Leninskii sbornik', Vol. XL, p. 391.
  4. M.M. Rozental, 'Marksistskii dialekticheskii method', Moscow, 1952, p. 300.
  5. F. Engels, 'Anti-Duhring', Moscow, 1975, p. 335.
  6. J. Stalin, 'Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR', Moscow, 1952, p. 75.
  7. Ibid., p. 81.
  8. Ibid., p. 66.
  9. Loc. cit.
  10. Marx and Engels, 'Complete Works', (in Russian), Vol. 13, p. 7.
  11. J. Stalin, op. cit., p. 70.
  12. 'Politicheskaya ekonomiya,' Vol. 3. Moscow, 1979, p. 317.
  13. J. Stalin, op. cit., p. 71.
  14. V.I. Lenin, op. cit., Vol. XL, 'Zamechaniya k knige N.I. Bukharina Ekonomika perekhodogo perioda, p. 392.
  15. Vijay Singh, op. cit., p. 15.
  16. W.B. Bland, 'The Restoration of Capitalism in the Soviet Union', Wembley, 1980. See Appendix 3, pp. 332-356. We express our gratitude to Bill Bland for having made available valuable materials that allow some light to be shed on the very complicated Voznesensky case.
  17. N. Voznesensky, 'Voennaya ekonomika SSSR v period otechestvennoi voiny', Moscow, 1948, p. 150.
  18. Ibid., p. 151.
  19. Voprosi ekonomiki, 'Eliminating the Mistakes and Improving the Work of Soviet Economists', No. 1, 1953, p. 4.
  20. P. Yudin, 'The Work of Stalin Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR - Basis of Further Development of the Social Sciences', Kommunist No. 3, 1953, p. 45.
  21. 'Istoriya politicheskoi ekonomiki sotsializma', Leningrad, 1983, p. 42.

Translated from the Russian by Tahir Asghar.

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