Movement for the Reorganisation of the CP of Greece 1918-1955 

The restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union (1953-1990)

In Unity & Struggle No. 23 we published an article “The working class in the Khrushchev-Brezhnev period was no longer the owner of the means of production”. Now we present the second part of this article.

b. In the commodity economy of the Soviet Union, labour power had once again been become a commodity.

The economic category “labour power” is fundamental and most central to scientifically understanding the nature of the two diametrically opposed socio-economic systems of the 20th century: capitalism-imperialism and socialism-communism. It is this historical-economic category that is related to both systems, with the existence of exploitation under capitalism and its abolition under socialism-communism, while its different character determines its essence respectively.

As capitalism emerged, developed and dominated society as a full-fledged mode of production, the conversion of labour power into commodity was of decisive importance in the transformation of commodity production to a capitalist form, and it was one of the two fundamental features of the capitalist mode of production. On the other hand, in the case of socialism labour power loses its commodity character; it ceases to be a commodity.

The production relations in the economy of the Soviet Union during the 1917-1953 period, that is, in the period of socialism-communism, and later during the Khrushchevite-Brezhnevite period, that is, the period when commodity production dominated, in both cases were determined by the relation of the producers to the means of production, or as Marx pointed out: It is always the direct relationship of the owners of the conditions of production to the direct producers – a relation always naturally corresponding to a definite stage in the development of the methods of labour and thereby its social productivity – which reveals the innermost secret, the hidden basis of the entire social structure and with it the political form of the relation of sovereignty and dependence, in short, the corresponding specific form of state.” (K. Marx, Capital, vol. 3).

While in the first period (1917-1953), that is, in the period of socialism-communism, this ultimate secret was found in the workers’ collective ownership of the means of production, that is, in the ownership by the direct producers, the second period was characterized by the total separation of the direct producers, the workers, from the means of production – the result of the overthrow of the dictatorship of the proletariat and its replacement by the dictatorship of the new bourgeoisie and the associated loss of political power – and the establishment of a completely new reality in the economy of the Soviet Union; new dominant relations of production. It was this economic reality that Marx called the specific economic form in which unpaid surplus-labour (our italics) is pumped out of direct producers. (K. Marx, Capital, vol. 3)

After the loss of political power and the control of the means of production by the working class, the new state of things in the economy of the Soviet Union was characterized by: a) the transformation of the working class into a proletariat b) the conversion of labour power into a commodity c) the reappearance of exploitation.

Deprived of the means of production, the working class of the Soviet Union was merely a productive force, just like the proletariat in the western capitalist countries.

The means of production passed into the hands of the now dominant new bourgeoisie that owned and managed them according to its interests and, as an exploiting class, was appropriating “the unpaid surplus-labour extracted from the direct producers”. To survive and earn their living, the proletariat of the Soviet Union was compelled to sell its labour power to the new exploiting class and more precisely: to the collective capitalist, the bourgeois “state of the whole people”, the representative and defender of the interests of the new bourgeoisie.

Thus, in the commodity economy of the Soviet Union during the Khrushchevite-Brezhnevite period, labour power became once again a commodity and the phenomenon of capitalist exploitation, characteristic of the western capitalist countries, appeared again.

Since then and in the coming decades, the same things that occurred in the western capitalist countries took place in the economy of the Soviet Union; namely what Marx had seen in the capitalist system:“ Capitalist production, therefore, of itself reproduces the separation between labour-power and the means of labour. It thereby reproduces and perpetuates the condition for exploiting the labourer. It incessantly forces him to sell his labour-power in order to live, and enables the capitalist to purchase labour-power in order that he may enrich himself” (K. Marx): “Capitalist production, therefore, under its aspect… of a process of reproduction,… produces and reproduces the capitalist relation; on the one side the capitalist, on the other the wage labourer.” In the case of the Soviet Union, it is not about private capitalism but State capitalism: the bourgeois “state of the whole people”.

Now, the claim of the Khrushchevite-Brezhnevite revisionists that in the historical period following 1953 labour power was not a commodity (I.I. Kusminov 1971, I.N. Shittov 1974, V. Batyrev 1974) because the working people, allegedly, continued to be the owners of the conditions and the results of production, has no basis whatsoever. It is a conscious political fraud since this claim presupposes the existence of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat through which the working people control both the conditions and the results of production. However, the Dictatorship of the Proletariat no longer existed because it had been overthrown two decades earlier, at the beginning of the 1950s (after the death-assassination of Joseph Stalin).

Of course, there were revisionist economists who openly admitted that labour power had become a commodity in the Soviet economy after 1953, such as V. Kornienko – I. Pachomov (1966), Ch. M. Miftachov (1968), P.N. Orechovich (1968), I.N. Βusdalov (1966), while others discussed the “value of labour power”: “the objective basis to determine the minimum real salary of the working people in socialist production is the value of labour power” (Ch. M. Miftachov, 1968), that is, as under capitalism where the worker is paid according to the value of his labour power, or as “under socialism… the worker has the right to freely dispose his labour power…” (A. Sukhov, 1972) as in capitalism of the western countries.

Moreover, other economists pointed to the resemblance of wages under Khrushchevite-Brezhnevite “socialism” to wages under capitalism: “in socialist society labour is paid in a form that is identical to the form of the price of labour when we consider wages under capitalism” (A. Aganbegjan / V. Mayer, 1966). This resemblance necessarily leads to the admission that the labour power in the commodity economy of the Soviet Union was itself a commodity. Others such as E. L. Manevich, M. V. Kolganov and S. P. Figurov observed in the sphere of circulation the existence of laws such as “the remuneration of the time of labour power”, and the “value equivalent” or “equivalence of circulation”. They even referred to an “Existenzminimum”, that is, the minimum for survival. In conclusion, both groups of economists recognized and accepted the commercial character of labour power in the Soviet Union’s commodity economy during the period following 1953.

The above-mentioned facts – including the revisionist economists’ open admission – show that the labour power had again become a commodity in the Soviet economy of the Khrushchevite-Brezhnevite period, and as a result capitalist exploitation had been restored. Analyzing the question of capitalist exploitation and capitalist appropriation in a commodity economy, as in capitalism, Marx pointed out:“ To the extent that commodity production, in accordance with its own inherent laws, develops further, into capitalist production, the property laws of commodity production change into the laws of capitalist appropriation.” (K. Marx).

The substitution of socialist-communist property relations with capitalist ones was accompanied by the same inevitable change in the socialist-communist relations of distribution – “the distribution relations essentially coincident with these production relations are their opposite side, so that both share the same historically transitory character” (K. Marx): “The historical character of these distribution relations is the historical character of production relations” (K. Marx). This means that the proletariat was paid on the basis of the value of labour power while the exploiting new bourgeoisie was appropriating the surplus value generated by the workers in the sphere of production. Collectively, as a class, the new bourgeoisie made sure that one part of this surplus value was converted into capital and that the rest was shared among its members in the form of very high salary bonuses.

The restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union was also evident in the sphere of circulation relations, which are determined by the property relations, especially in the relation between the enormously high salaries of the members of the new bourgeoisie and the salaries of the workers, and in their diametrically opposed interests. The latter formed the basis of the antagonistic contradictions in Soviet society at that time. Engels had previously pointed out their importance: “the economic relations of a given society present themselves in the first place as interests” (F. Engels). At the end of the 1970s, the salaries and the bonuses that the heads of enterprises and other executives received were 15-20 times higher than the workers’ salaries. The situation was the same in the collective farms, where the salary differences were as high as 1 to 30. According to the revisionist press, the largest part of the bonuses, actually 82%, went into the pockets of the enterprise directors whereas the remaining 18% went to the workers, despite the fact that they constituted the overwhelming majority, 80-90% of the working people in the state farms (Tirana Radio, February 4, 1978); and this difference was constantly rising at the expense of the workers.

Political Committee of the "Movement for the Reorganization of the Communist Party of Greece 1918-55"

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