First Published: The Worker, for Hawaii, Vol. 1, No. 3, December 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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The fact that this year’s Nobel Prize for economics was jointly awarded to a Soviet economist named Leonid Kantorovich and a US professor from Yale snows something about the Soviet Union–that it is not “socialist” or “communist” but has the same economic system, capitalism, as the United States.
Each year the Nobel Prize, a $143,000 payoff, is given to the economist who makes the greatest contribution to international capitalism, by devising plans that help the bosses squeeze more profit out of the labor of the workers, and by hiding the real nature of capitalism, exploitation, behind a haze of figures, charts and doubletalk.
The two economists were rewarded for their “contribution to the theory of the optimum allocation of resources”. Actually, all this theory amounts to is the use of sophisticated mathematical techniques, to assist the bosses in making the highest (or “optimum”) rate of profit possible. In this scheme, as in all capitalist economics, the workers are reduced to a “resource” and a “cost item” to be kept to the absolute minimum through speedups, wage-cuts and layoffs.
Only in capitalist societies are these types of theories sought after and rewarded. In commenting on the awards, the New York Times praised Kantorovich for “focusing the attention of managers on the criterion of profit”, and wrote that this theory was “equally applicable” in both the US and the USSR. This shows that the bosses in this country recognize that the search for highest profits underlies the economy of the Soviet Union, as it does of the entire capitalist world.
The working class of the Soviet Union and the US are very familiar with the practical results of these schemes. The bosses spend millions figuring out how to squeeze every possible ounce of labor out of us, for it is only out of our labor that they make their profits. Throughout the US and in every industry, we have had to fight against their ever-tightening squeeze, from battles to be allowed to take breaks to use the bathrooms, to large-scale struggles against more sophisticated speedup attempts backed by hidden cameras and time studies–like the hated “Kokomo Plan” that the bosses are trying to shove down the throats of postal workers.
The Soviet workers face the same fight. For example, the Soviet exploiters have created a “Shchekino system”, a model new being used in hundreds of plants m the Soviet Union. It was named after the Shchekino Chemical Combine, where the Soviet bosses first experimented with a plan that led to laying off over 1,300 workers, doubling the workload of those not laid off while granting them a lousy wage increase.
Clearly, life for the working class is pretty much the same in both the Soviet Union and the US. Yet the leaders of the Soviet Union try to pass off their system as socialism to try to deceive the Soviet workers and others throughout the world, just as the exploiters in this country try to pass the US off as a democracy with “equal justice for all.” The US capitalists are also happy to call the USSR socialist or communist, because it allows them to say, when more and more people are fed up with the system in this country, “look, there is no alternative to capitalism, see what a mess communism is in the Soviet Union.” And of course, capitalism in the Soviet Union is just as rotten as capitalism in this country. But real socialism is something all together different.
In 1917, the Russian working class, led by their Bolshevik Party, rose up and dumped the capitalists off their backs. For the first time in the history of the world, a country existed where workers were the masters of society. No longer did the workers labor all their lives to enrich a handful of bosses-exploitation became a thing of the past. Socialism meant that all the wealth created by the workers became the common property of the working class, as it should be.
Under capitalism, workers have no control over what is produced and how. All that is decided by how much profit some capitalist will gain. But socialism enables the working class, through its control of the government, to decide how to organize itself and the resources of society to meet the needs of the people. Low cost housing and public transportation for example, which are unprofitable under capitalism, can be priorities under socialism. Real economic planning becomes possible, something entirely different from the plans of speed-up experts like Kantorovich.
Socialism enabled the working class in the Soviet Union to make great advances in a short period of time, turning a relatively backward country into an advanced industrial state in just a few decades, and greatly improving life for the masses of people. Under socialism, workers were not at the mercy of periodic crises of capitalism. For example, during the 1930’s, when the entire capitalist world was rocked by the Great Depression, the Soviet working class continued to build up the country rapidly. The product of the workers’ labor went solely to meeting the needs of the people. This ended the absurdity of workers being laid off and factories lying idle because people could not afford to purchase their goods.
All this was only possible because the working class held power in the Soviet Union and exercised their rule over the old overthrown exploiters and others, who constantly tried to overthrow the rule of the working class and resurrect the profit system.
In fact, Kantorovich himself had tried to sell this “optimum allocation of resources” junk to Soviet railway workers in the 1930’s. The workers told him to leave economic matters to the working class, and he was given a job in a mathematical institute where he could amuse himself with his formulas and do no damage.
But in 1956, the working class was overthrown by Khruschev and a small group of some of the top leaders of the Communist Party and government, who sought to restore capitalism and set themselves up as the new rulers. The social wealth of the Soviet Union–the factories, mines, etc.–were taken out of the hands of the workers and became capital, tools in the hands of new bosses who used them to squeeze wealth for their own benefit off the backs of the Soviet workers. After Khruschev’s coup, Kantorovich and others like him, crawled out of the woodwork to assist in wrecking socialism and rebuilding capitalism. For this service, he was given a big institute in Moscow.
Kantorovich claims his theory will bring rapid and rational growth to the Soviet economy, but nothing could be further from the truth. In our own country, the bosses have a small army of economists and experts on the payroll, but all their fancy schemes just add up to more exploitation for us. And nothing they do is keeping the economy from further collapse. As long as profit for the few is the basis of the economic system, that system–capitalism–will continue to go from crisis to deeper crisis, with more misery for the masses of people.