[OPE-L:1362] Re: Political economy of socialism

From: Gerald Levy (glevy@pratt.edu)
Date: Tue Sep 28 1999 - 08:14:04 EDT

Re Paul C's [OPE-L:1361]:
> Some of the lessons learned from hitherto existing socialism are now so
> basic that Marxist economists take them for granted, the widespread
> acceptance of input output analysis and the use of matrix algebra in our
> theories has its origins in the development of planning methodologies in
> the USSR in the 20s and 30s.

These are simply mathematical methods used that can be used in the
planning process ... and that is all.
> Other questions are only arrived at by looking at the concrete workings
> of the Soviet and similar economies.
> For example the question of public finance under socialism: should it be
> based on the use of income tax or should it rely, as the Soviets did,
> primarily upon a turnover tax.

Before one attempts to draw lessons about the expenditure side of public
finance, shouldn't one first attempt to derive lessons about *how* public
finance decisions were made and *who* made them? For instance, aren't
there lessons to be learned from a process where major planning
decisions were made by "planners" (technocrats) _rather than_ the
working-class? Similarly, we should ask: what was the relationship between
the Party and the masses in the planning process and then ask how we could
build socialism without a privileged bureaucracy.

If, in the future, mistakes are made in the planning process (as, of
course, they will be) shouldn't we first try to ensure that whatever major
decisions are made -- right _or_ wrong (as viewed from the perspective of
intellectuals) -- directly by the working class? (I take it that the AC/PC
model was designed in part to overcome this problem, right?)

> Then there is the question of food subsidies,should food and other
> necessities of life be subsidized by being made available to consumers at
> below their values.
> Related to this is the question of the degree to which agriculture should
> be public or private. This was obviously of interest at the turn of the
> century, as evidencec by Kautskys book on the agrarian question.

Or expressing the issue differently, what is the relationship between the
working-class and the peasantry in a post-revolutionary society?

Yet, one should remember that the industrialization debates in the USSR
about how to finance industrialization (in which Bukharin and
Preobrazhensky were main players) were debates not about the role of the
peasantry under socialism. Indeed, as I can recall, neither the Right
Opposition nor the Left Opposition at the time claimed that the USSR was a
socialist society. Rather, they both recognized that it was a
"transitional" society. And the USSR was isolated economically (and
militarily as well, of course). Perhaps what we need to do is discuss the
lessons associated with "building socialism" in an individual nation. Or,
expressing the matter differently, perhaps we need to discuss the doctrine
of "socialism in a single country" and, even more broadly, how socialism
can be built on a global basis and what the relationship between
individual nations in a socialist commonwealth should be (we can, for
example, draw lessons from the experience of the COMECON members to the
USSR) and how you can be able to build world-wide socialism given the
inherited inequalities among the masses from what were the advanced
capitalist nations and the so-called "developing" capitalist nations.

> Then there is the question as to whether enteprises in a socialist
> economy should be subjects of right, this was not as far as I know
> debated prior to the establishment of the USSR, but it turned out to be
> a key issue during the 50's and 60's in the debate over the Kosygin
> reforms.

Yes, we can discuss that experience. We can also discuss the experiences
of the NEM in Hungary and "self-management" in Yugoslavia.

Relatedly, we could ask if there are experiences to be drawn from the
"Great Leap Forward" in China.

In solidarity, Jerry

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