ONCE AGAIN, WHY THE PROFIT MOTIVE COULD NOT WORK IN THE USSR.

In 1999 when my pamphlet was first published there appeared for the first time an explanation consistent with Marx’s methodology, why the profit motive is tied to market economies. It depends on the presence of “many capitals”. There for the first time appeared an explanation why the profit motive in the USSR had the opposite effect to that intended after it was made prominent in the Kosygin post-1967 reforms. In 2015 I wrote a major article on this question which is referenced in the article. Because much of this analysis has been buried by the large number of articles that appear on this site, I thought it useful to produce a follow up article as part of the series looking back at the USSR from the 1930s onwards.

7 Responses to ONCE AGAIN, WHY THE PROFIT MOTIVE COULD NOT WORK IN THE USSR.

  1. Borzooieh says:

    What if the transfer of value was happening between different countries and user in global market ? Between Oil company in US and oil company in USSR ?

    • Foreign trade by the USSR indeed enters the realm of value. Unfortunately, an uncompetitive economy such as the USSR loses by this trade rather than gains. The exception as you point out, being oil after the Yom Kippur War in 1973, when oil prices tripled. It is generally recognised that the high price of oil supported the USSR economically and arguably delayed perestroika.. Sorry for the delay I was completing the post on US profits in 2020.

  2. Borzooieh says:

    Thank you for the response
    I think the fact that who gains and who dose not is not an issue here
    The main issue is : there was a transfer of value into and out of ussr economy but through global market not domestic market
    When they were trading with western advanced countries they were loosing and when the trade was happening with backward countries they were gaining
    So it brings up profit motive , and they would have tried to invest in new technology and so on to prevent the loss in trade with advanced western countries and increase the gains in trade with backward countries ! But why they didn’t or why they were not effective to do so
    This question is not addressed in your article

    • Both in structure and in content foreign trade until the 1980s was abnormal from the perspective of capital. In terms of structure foreign trade was the monopoly of the state. Individual enterprises could not sell into the world market. In terms of content the bulk of exports were raw materials and oil in return for machinery and grains. Given the level of industrialization found in the USSR, sufficient to defeat Nazi Germany by 1945, very little manufacture goods were exported. In any case, foreign trade never rose above 4% of output of which 0.5% of output was with the Third World. I do not believe the USSR exploited the third world, rather the financial and industrial support given to Cuba, Vietnam, Angola and Afghanistan exceeded any gains from the Third World, which is why the USSR basically began to withdraw from these countries with the exception of Cuba in the 1980s. One of the first sources of resentment in East Germany before the fall of the Wall was the extent of governmental support to the third world particularly around the time South Africa invaded Angola and the USSR deployed the Cuban army across the Atlantic to defeat the South Africans. Also Hillel Ticktin describes the thousands of cases of imported machinery found rusting at ports in Comecon either because they could not be integrated into production without disrupting it or they were incomplete or inappropriate. This waste is incompatible with the preservation of capital. So the reason I do not focus on foreign trade is because it simply was not the tail that wagged the dog. It played, a minor role in the ultimate collapse of the USSR. You should read William Jeffries book on the USSR which I have cited which explains what he calls the expansion of the market boundary into the USSR, not as a result of foreign trade but the conversion of means of production into capital following the political collapse of the state there.

  3. solencea says:

    The best explanation of the USSR I have seen to date.
    My understanding was that pre Perestroika, the USSR was stagnant but stable. That political discontent at not matching the West triggered the reforms that triggered collapse. So the question is, if the USSR had not begun the reforms could it have survived? Or in more abstract terms, can a politicised bureaucracy controlling a socialised state-economy producing use values sustain itself indefinitely? Much like North Kore and Cuba do.
    (Alternatively if the USSR had reformed itself like China, Vietnam, and Laos, it could have also continued but I don’t think this controversial)
    On the other hand, could an economy that was so systematically flawed in terms of misallocating labour and capital as the USSR continue? One could argue that North Korea and Cuba only survive because of external aid and tourism monies respectively.
    Would welcome your opinion on this?

  4. solencea says:

    The best explanation of the USSR I have seen to date.

    My understanding was that pre Perestroika, the USSR was stagnant but stable. That political discontent at not matching the West triggered the reforms that triggered collapse. So the question is, if the USSR had not begun the reforms could it have survived? Or in more abstract terms, can a politicised bureaucracy controlling a socialised state-economy producing use values sustain itself indefinitely? Much like North Kore and Cuba seem to.

    (Alternatively if the USSR had reformed itself like China, Vietnam, and Laos, it could have also continued but I don’t think this as historically disputed a point)

    On the other hand, could an economy that was so systematically flawed in terms of misallocating labour and capital as the USSR continue? One could argue that North Korea and Cuba only survive because of external aid and tourism monies respectively.

    Would welcome your opinion on this.

    • Thank you for your kind words. The failure of the 1965 to 67 reforms which sought to introduce costing and profits set the seal on the fate of the USSR. I am no expert on the final stages of the USSR. You raise a very important point which I am not sure I can fully answer. I think the key element was the lust by the bureaucracy for their own private property given that their privileges were precarious, they could be given and taken away by the party. Here I agree with Trotsky. Against a stagnant economy and a withering surplus there was no longer anything holding back elements of the bureaucracy seeking to transform themselves into capitalists. China went in the same direction but via a different route. Unlike the USSR with its vertical or centralized privatization (Big Bang) which turned it into a failed state with rich pickings for imperialism, China embarked on a more horizontal and gradual decentralized privatization enriching many more layers (regional) of the bureaucracy and therefore preventing it from becoming a failed state vulnerable to imperialism. Here again, the issue of class forces is important, Russia’s relatively more developed and extensive working class could have prevented such a gradual approach, rather than the Big Bang which delivered a hammer blow.

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