The victory of the October Socialist Revolution of 1917 in Russia demonstrated the liberating nature of socialist relations of production for the development of the productive forces. October of 1917 revealed the superiority of central scientific Planning in the development of the productive forces, on the solid ground of working-class power, of social ownership over the means of production. The elimination of unemployment and illiteracy, the general, compulsory and free education, the eight-hour workday, the real equality of men and women in work and life, the liberation from racial prejudices, the epic conversion of peace-time industry into war industry before and during World War II are some characteristic examples of the first decades of Soviet power, as well as the leap in space exploration later on.
During this particular historic period, the ability of the targeted, centrally-planned direction of social production to obtain an increasingly scientific character and to improve the organization and coordination of the collective efforts of millions of Soviet workers was demonstrated. The need for the implementation of the unified state plan, of the principle of democratic centralism and of the utilization of socialist emulation as a directive method, in order to enhance the effectiveness of central planning of the economy, were confirmed.
In order to understand the significance of these achievements in the Soviet Union we need to think about the historical conditions under which they were accomplished. The conquests of Soviet power were achieved under conditions of imperialist invasion, imperialist encirclement, permanent international threats and an undermining of production from within. They were achieved under conditions of a great shortage of material assets and of specialist scientific experts, and under the pressure of time to advance the development of sectors of strategic importance in the USSR’s competition with the international imperialist system. Moreover, Soviet power quickly bridged the very long gulf that separated pre-revolutionary tsarist Russia from the strong capitalist states, such as the U.S, Britain and Germany.
The leap achieved in the Soviet Union during its first decades proves that, with the expansion of social ownership over the means of production and the scientific central planning of the economy, labor productivity and innovative technological applications in the economy increased dramatically. The purpose and pace of development of the productive forces changed. The working person, the main productive force, was freed from his bonds, since he no longer sought a boss in the jungle of the capitalist market to sell his labor power. A new army of scientists was created from among the children of the working class and of the poor peasants.
Soviet working-class power was founded in the 1920’s on the solid ground of the Soviets, the General Assemblies of workers in every workplace, with representatives of the Assembly to the higher organs of power in every branch, representatives that could be revoked by their electors. This was an important step for the effective exercise of working-class power.
The superiority of the central planning of working-class power was demonstrated over the capitalist market, where the monopoly groups plan and compete to secure a higher percentage of profit, a greater share.
Soviet historical experience has also shown that, objectively, the course of socialist construction is not a simple matter, that it does not proceed smoothly and in a straight line. A number of real problems that arose, such as delays in the technological modernization of industry, with negative consequences for the quality and adequacy of products, were misinterpreted as inherent weaknesses of the socialist relations of production. According to Soviet estimates, the volume of the industrial output of the USSR in the early 1950’s was less than one-third of the respective US output, not to speak of the US’s military lead in the development of nuclear weapons.
Particularly after World War II, the Soviet Union had to upgrade its production and services on the basis of a new, higher level of social needs. It had to solve this problem under conditions of horrific human losses during war-time of the most productive ages.
It was a particularly complex problem, which concerned the assurance of a proportional development of all sectors of production, the qualitative upgrading of popular consumption products, the priority in the production of means of production, the extension of automation to many sectors of the economy, the necessary steps to ensure that the contradiction between managerial and executive labor is not sharpened.
More generally, it had to do with the ability to ensure the priority in the development of modern means of production over the means of consumption, to maintain the basic proportions of all parts and elements of the economy, to upgrade the quality and efficiency of production, to rapidly apply the new scientific and technical achievements, to raise socialist consciousness and the creative initiative of workers.
At this crucial historical juncture, the solution had to be found by looking forward, via the planned expansion of communist relations of production.
Judging by the results, in the 1950s it became apparent that there was no collectively mastered theoretical potential to effectively address these problems.
Serious theoretical discussions and controversies in the fields of philosophy and political economy took place during the historical course of the Soviet Union. The theoretical discussion of the 1927-1929 period on the dialectical relationship and interaction between productive forces and relations of production was important. The debate highlighted the active role of socialist relations of production in the development of the productive forces. The active role of the relations of production is realized through the efforts of working-class power to eliminate the survivals of private property and to orient the development of the productive forces in the direction of the full satisfaction of social needs.
Unfortunately, however, the content of the theoretical debate focused mainly on the need to delineate the scientific subject of political economy from the broader subject of dialectical and historical materialism and did not orient theoretical research towards a deeper understanding on the crucial issue of the interaction between relations of production and the development of the productive forces.
This theoretical deepening was necessary to raise the level of scientific grounding of the methods of socialist management of the economy and to effectively guide the ongoing political effort to consolidate and to fully prevail the mature form of socialization of production, central planning and social ownership of the entire economy.
At the same period (1924-1929), the philosophical debate between “dialecticians” and “mechanists” was important in understanding the concept of dialectical contradiction and its role in the development of natural and social phenomena. In the early 1930s the theoretical concept of “non-antagonistic contradictions” had already emerged.
The Soviet philosopher Ilyenkov will later point out that this philosophical approach would have an impact on the discussion of the issues of the political economy of socialism, on the need to clearly delimit commodity-money relations as an element foreign to Central Planning. Instead of a decisive struggle for the abolition of the market and commodity economy, the opportunistic perception regarding the possibility of diffusion, limited integration and utilization of the functions of the market by the central planning of working-class power will gradually prevail.
In the 1950s Stalin will summarize this controversy in his work “The Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR”. In conclusion, there was a theoretical debate within the Bolshevik Party, in which the revolutionary forces struggled against the supporters of the market. But the steps towards developing the Marxist political economy of socialism were insufficient to confront the problems relating to the prioritization of social needs and the effective planning for their satisfaction. They were insufficient to be able to formulate clear directions, methods and indicators for calculating and evaluating the development and performance of socialist industry and agricultural production, in light of the expanding social needs and the new demands of socialized production.
For example, in the 1950s indicators concerning the increase in the volume of production continued to dominate central planning of production, while indicators related to the increase in the productivity of labor, economizing on raw materials, the improvement of those materials required for production, the rapid integration of scientific and technological achievements throughout production, should also have dominated.
Marxist research on the historical course of shaping the political economy of socialism in the USSR is necessary, so as not to repeat the same mistakes.
Decisions were made under particularly pressing conditions, leaving no room for long-term considerations. Objective difficulties followed one another from the first period of the lack of material resources and specialized executives, of the low educational level of the working class, to the post-war need for vast re-organization of many branches of the economy.
Today, we have the advantage of researching and learning from theoretical mistakes and contradictions that were manifested under the pressure of these objective difficulties.
Of course, the difficulty in overcoming theoretical deficiencies, as well as the ideological conflict within the CPSU and the rest of the communist parties, had as its background the existence of different social forces, different material interests within the socialist countries.
In many socialist countries private ownership of agricultural production had not yet been abolished. Not even the right to hire labor had been completely abolished. In the Soviet Union itself, in addition to maintaining the collective ownership of the kolkhozes in the agricultural sector, a weakening of workers’ participation and control and the maintenance of income differences took place. The contradiction between managerial and executive labor increased.
After the war, and especially after the 20th Congress of the CPSU in 1956, the road towards the counter-revolutionary overthrow, towards a backtracking in the course of History was opened. The economic discussions of 1960 will be dominated by the opportunistic views of “market socialism”, whose result was the Kosygin economic reform of 1965.
During the same period, the Marxist-Leninist conception of the workers’ state was revised. The 22nd Congress of the CPSU (1961) characterized the USSR as a “state of the whole people» and the CPSU as a “party of the whole people”.
Rather than seeking solutions in a forward direction, towards an expansion and deepening of the socialist relations of production, solutions were sought backwards, using the tools and relations of production of capitalism. The central management of the planned economy was weakened. Each individual production unit independently set its own efficiency goals, essentially fragmenting the overall goals of social production. Market and commodity production were strengthened; income inequalities increased, individual and group ownership were strengthened, particularly in the agricultural sector.
In other words, a social force was formed by the directors of socialized production and the collective ownership of the kolkhozes, which initially put obstacles in socialist construction and then gained the ability to usurp part of the social product, thus creating a “shadow capital”. This social force eventually dominated politically also within the CPSU.
The counter-revolution would not have won had there been a timely collective theoretical and political preparation to respond to the difficult problems posed by the new level of development of social production, in the direction of the abolition of commodity relations and group ownership in the means of production.
Both the positive and the negative historical experience of the 20th century, following the victory of the October Socialist Revolution of 1917, demonstrate the liberating role of the socialist relations of production in the development of the productive forces, with the goal of satisfying the needs of society.
The historical course, from the victory of the October Socialist Revolution of 1917 until the victory of the counter-revolution and the overthrows of the early 1990s, highlights and underlines the importance of the creative application of the Leninist principles of socialist construction.
It is a valuable historical experience that illuminates, on the one hand, the beneficial results that can be achieved when the revolutionary vanguard is aware and properly utilizes the laws of socialist construction and, on the other, the devastating negative consequences when this is not the case, due to collective theoretical and political inadequacies and the victory of opportunist perceptions in the Communist Party, under the pressure of a negative correlation of forces and of major difficulties that may arise.
It also demonstrates the objective constraints and difficulties in the efforts of a planned direction of the economy, as necessitated by the level of development of the productive forces, of technical progress and of labor productivity at any given point.