Preface to the Indian Edition of the Textbook of Political Economy (1955)

Vijay Singh

The publication of the series of Textbooks of Political Economy by the Institute of Economics of the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Union, the First edition of 1954, the Second of 1955, the re-made Third editions of 1958 and 1959 and the final edition of 1962 had a profound impact in the Soviet Union, the people’s democracies and in progressive circles around the world1. The volumes were published in several millions of copies in the principal languages of the globe.

The Textbooks had their impact in India. P.C. Mahalanobis, who had visited Moscow in July 1954, expressed his heartfelt gratitude at receiving a signed complimentary copy of the first edition of the Political Economy Textbook from K.V. Ostrovitianov which had been published in August of the same year. In his letter to Ostrovitianov written from Kolkata he expressed regret that he could not read the book in the original as it was in the Russian language but he hoped to learn of its contents with a help of a translator. He had observed great interest in the volume as there was not one serious book on the theme of the socialist economy in the English language. This intervention was taken with serious interest in Moscow. The papers relating to P.C. Mahalanobis in the Archives of the Russian Academy of Sciences note that he was an ‘Advisor to Nehru’.2 Mahalanobis was highly respected amongst economists and statisticians in the Soviet Union: in 1958 he was made an International Member of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR and after his death he was honoured by an article in the five-volume Economic Encyclopaedia of Political Economy.3 The letter of P.C. Mahalanobis evidently made a mark for K.V. Ostrovitianov and D. Shepilov then wrote to the Central Committee of the CPSU. After summarising the letter which had been received from Mahalanobis they noted that thus far the Textbook of Political Economy had been translated only into the languages of the people’s democracies. Given that an English translation would be beneficial to the widespread dissemination of the textbook in the capitalist countries it was necessary to take a decision to direct the Foreign Languages Publishing House to publish the textbook of political economy in English.4 Stalin earlier had said that the Textbook of Political Economy would be read by the Americans and the Chinese.5 Ultimately, the second edition of the Textbook of Political Economy was translated into English by Andrew Rothstein and was published by the publisher Lawrence and Wishart from London in 1957. This edition is now published in India for the first time.

The publication of the First and Second editions of the Textbooks of Political Economy in 1954 and 1955 were rooted in decisions taken by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Bolshevik) in 1936 and 1937. In April 1936 the Central Committee decided to constitute a curriculum of political economy and arrange for the preparation of a manual of political economy, and, in April and July of the following year further resolutions were adopted which recommended that it be based on A.A. Bogdanov’s Short Course of Economic Science, Moscow, 1897 which had been highly regarded by Lenin.6 The writing of new manuals became a matter of urgency as the economic relations of Soviet society changed radically with collectivisation, industrialisation and the five-year plans.

A number of teams of Soviet scholars were engaged in the preparation of the several draft political textbooks of political economy from the late 1930s right through to the period 1954-1962. Leading Soviet political economists such as A.L. Leontiev, D.T. Shepilov and K.V. Ostrovitianov headed the drafting teams at various times. Crucial questions came to the fore in the presentation of successive modes of production but none were as contentious as those pertaining to the socialist mode of production and the transition to communist society. The textbooks of political economy in a pioneering fashion elaborated the principal features of the socialist economy in an extensive way. This is strikingly evident if one makes comparisons of earlier textbooks with the Textbooks of Political Economy from 1954. The earlier volumes on political economy were devoted to a study of capitalism which was contrasted to the socialism of the transitional period. If we look at the ‘Outline of Political Economy’, significantly subtitled ‘Political Economy and Soviet Economics’ authored by Lapidus and Ostrovitianov it parenthetically, as it were, concluded with a chapter dealing with the political economy of socialism.

From 1954, the textbooks devoted several hundred pages to this subject-matter. The Textbook of Political Economy of 1955 published here retains a particular significance today for the reason that it represents the only major study which is available in the English tongue on the features of the socialist mode of production in the Soviet Union. The section on the socialist mode of production had to harmonise the views of the classics of Marxism with the actual functioning of Soviet socialism such as it was formed after collectivisation, industrialisation and the implementation of centralised directive planning under Gosplan, the State Committee for Planning. After the socialist offensive in agriculture and the establishment of the collective farms of the middle and poor peasantry founded on the exclusion of the rich peasantry, the kulaks, whom Lenin had termed the ‘last capitalist class’, the Soviet Union declared that the basis of socialism had been established in the Soviet Union while recognising that this necessarily required further development.

The Soviet Union was declared to be in the main a socialist economy. Earlier manuals which were concerned with the Soviet economy of the transitional period were now out of date.7 The Eighteenth Congress of the CPSU (b) which was held in 1939 mooted the question of the transition to communism in the Soviet Union and Gosplan in 1941 was directed to produce a fifteen year perspective plan for laying the basis for communist society. This was produced but of course the impending war meant that this was not given any priority. Nevertheless after the war Stalin reaffirmed the possibility of creating the foundations of communism in one country and Gosplan again was given orders to draft a fifteen year perspective plan for laying the economic basis for communist society.

P. C Mahalanobis correctly pinpointed that the importance of the 1954 political economy textbook was its section on the socialist mode of production which constituted half of the volume. While an enormous Marxist economic literature existed in the Soviet Union on the political economy of socialism incorporating also the discussions and collisions on questions in this terrain virtually nothing of this was circulated in languages other than Russian. The textbooks on political economy which circulated in India by Ostrovitianov and Lapidus which were read by the nationalists in Indian jails, or the volume by A.L. Leontiev of the nineteen-forties had very slender chapters on the political economy of socialism. These volumes were of importance for the elucidation of the political economy of capitalism but not of the economic basis of socialism. The early generations of Indian communism were reared on these materials. The political economy textbook of 1955 is also important in other ways. It is the only textbook which represents the self-perception of the Soviet economists and indeed the Soviet state of the internal dynamics of a socialist society. Subsequent reworkings of this textbook by K.V. Ostrovitianov, the doyen of political economy under Khrushchev, were typified by the norms of what may be called the principles of a ‘market socialist’ economy. The two editions of the political economy textbook published in 1958 and 1959 (known as the Third edition) which were also printed by the million reflected the fundamental changes which had taken place in the Soviet economy in the period 1953 and 1959. The Third Editions of1958 and 1959 were translated into the languages of the people’s democracies but not into English. The Chinese Third Edition was reviewed by Mao in 1958 himself although he did not critique the ‘market socialist’ component and direction of this edition.

Having noted that the 1955 political economy textbook in many ways summarised the self-perception of the Soviet economists of the Soviet economy of the period shortly after Stalin and that textbooks after this year were orientated to the norms of‘market socialism’ it is instructive to examine some of the ruptures which are apparent in the textbook of political economy between the understanding of the late Stalin period and the manuals published after that.

Radical changes took place in the economy of the Soviet Union between 1953 and 1955 in the spirit of neo-liberalism. Starting from April 1953 step by step the nature of the planning was transformed from that of directive centralised planning by Gosplan, that of planning as law, to the decentralised co-ordinated planning of the Union Ministries, the Union Republics (from 1955) and their planning organs. The powers of the directors of the enterprises were expanded at the expense of Gosplan and centralised directive planning in 1955. Necessarily these developments which paved the way to expand the role of commodity-money relations in the Soviet economy implied that the gradual transition to communism was now retarded if not terminated. The plan to replace Soviet trade with products-exchange, to gradually transform the collective farms into the socialised property of the whole people in the form of Agricultural Communes which is evident in Stalin’s ‘Economic Problems’ and in the Soviet economic literature in the months after its publication was terminated after the death of Stalin from April 1953 and substituted by a renewed emphasis on Soviet trade. Mikoyan as is clear from the draft manuscript of his memoirs had resisted the intervention of Stalin to introduce products-exchange into the Soviet economy. The Draft Political Economy Textbook of Political Economy of March 1953, which may be located in the Stalin collection in the former Central Party Archives, carries an extensive discussion on the need to raise collective farm property to the level of the property of the whole people to eliminate the essential distinctions between town and country. The establishment of a single all-people’s communist property in the means of production would strengthen the existing social property of the state sector and prepare the way for the co-operative collective farms to rise to the level of the all-people’s property. This was essential for the transition from commodity circulation to a system of products-exchange. These two measures were essential for the transition to communism.8 In the 1954 edition of the political economy manual the importance of replacing commodity circulation by products exchange was dropped9. This deletion was retained in the 1955 edition. The transformations in Soviet economic policy were reflected, then, in the 1955 version of the textbook of political economy in the interstices of the sections on the socialist mode of production and the transition to communism.

The neo-liberal transformation of the Soviet economy accelerated after the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU. Commodity production and circulation now came to be the norm in the Soviet economy. This is evident in the actual implementation of ‘market socialist’ policies by the government and Gosplan. In May 1957 a number of centralised sales organisations were established under Gosplan to vend the industrial goods of Soviet industry thereby ending the system of planned allocation of the products of the state sector. Four months later on September 22nd 1957 the Soviet Council of Ministers through Resolution Number 1150 directed that enterprises were required to operate on the basis of profitability. This had been preceded in July 1957 by Gosplan order number 663 where an organ was created, Glavavtotraktorsbita, which had the responsibility of marketing the machinery produced in the state sector to the agrarian enterprises. This implied that the industrial sector producing agricultural machinery was now engaging in commodity production for the collective farms and the state farms. All this suggests that by 1958 generalised commodity production was dominating in the Soviet economy. In such conditions labour power automatically became a commodity. The Third Edition of the ‘Political Economy Textbook’ which appeared in 1958 accurately reflected the new economic system by stating that the means of production circulated within the State sector as commodities10. The manual did not, of course, depict labour power as being a commodity in the Soviet Union despite the fact that the means of production had been thoroughly commodified.

Despite all its omissions and defects the Textbook of Political Economy, which is printed in India for the first time, informs us of the dynamics of capitalist society and is a monumental depiction of the first phase of communist society, the socialist mode of production, which was on the brink of entering the second, higher, phase of communist society. This manual enables all students and practitioners of Marxism to discover for themselves the vast achievements of the Soviet Union and the People’s

Democracies. This is especially important in the current situation as the work of socialism and the democratic camp has essentially been destroyed by the implementation of the economic policies informed by neo-liberalism which were enacted in the post-Stalin period. The end of socialism and democracy enabled the theorists of capital, the ‘social market’ and ‘21st century socialism’ to join hands to demolish Marxist political economy. And yet it lives. The revival of the communist movement in the former Soviet Union and the ex-people’s democracies as also around the world indicates the beginnings of the second wave of revolution which is once again engaging in an examination of the political economy of capitalism and socialism.

21st December 2015.


1. ‘Politicheskaia ekonomia, Uchebnik’, Akademia Nauk SSSR, Institut Ekonomiki, Gosudarstvennoe Izdatel’stvo politicheskoi literatury, Moscow, 17th August 1954, 639 pages. The Second, expanded, edition which comprised of672 pages was signed for the press on 12th October 1955. The Third Recast Edition of 680 pages was signed for the press on 17th November 1958. The expanded Third Recast Edition of 708 pages was approved for sending to the press on 31st August 1959. The final Fourth Recast and Expanded Edition of 703 pages was authorised for printing on the 15th of September 1962.

2. ARAN Fond 1705/ Op. 1/Ed. khr. 340. The letter of P. C. Mahalanobis to K.V. Ostrovitianov is dated 2nd November 1954.

3. ‘Ekonomicheskaia entsiklopedia politicheskaia ekonomia’, Vol. 2, Izdatel’stvo ‘Sovetskaia entsiklopedia’, Moscow, p. 422.

4. ARAN Fond 1705/ Op. 2/Ed.khr. 173. This letter from K.V. Ostrovitianov and D.T. Shepilov to the Central Committee of the CPSU is undated.

5. ‘Uchebnik dolzhen pol’zovat’sia neprerekaemym avtoritetom’. Besedy I.V. Stalina s uchenymi-ekonomistami. 1941, 1950, 1952 gg., Istoricheskiy arkhiv No. 5, 2012, p. 20.

6. ARAN Fond 352/Op. 1/Ed. khr. 165, l. 1-4; ARAN Fond 352/ Op. 1/ Ed. khr. 23, l-5.

7. A. Leont’iev and E. Khmel’nitskaia, ‘Sovetskaia ekonomika’, Opyt posobia dlia samostoiatel’nogo izuchenia teoreticheskikh problem perekhodkhoziastva. Plany, tesisy, literatura, Moskovskiy rabochiy, Moskva-Leningrad, 1928 and I. Lapidus and K. Ostrovityanov, ‘An Outline of Political Economy, Political Economy and Soviet Economics’, Martin Lawrence, London, 1929.

8. Politicheskaya Ekonomia, Uchebnik, Gosudarstvennoe Izdatel’stvo Politicheskoi Literatury, 1953, pp. 520-535. Printed manuscript.

9. Akademia Nauk SSSR, Institut Ekonomiki, Politicheskaya Ekonomia, Uchebnik, Gosudarstvennoe Izdatel’stvo Politicheskoi Literatury, Moscow, 1954, pp. 520-535,

10. Ostrovityanov, K.V., et al, ‘Politicheskaya Ekonomia, Uchebnik’, 3rd edition, Moscow, 1958, p. 505.

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