REMARKS ON ECONOMIC QUESTIONS CONNECTED WITH THE NOVEMBER 1951 DISCUSSION
I have received all the materials on the economic discussion arranged to assess the draft textbook on political economy. The material received includes the “Proposals for the Improvement of the Draft Textbook on Political Economy,” “Proposals for the Elimination of Mistakes and Inaccuracies” in the draft, and the “Memorandum on Disputed Issues.”
On all these materials, as well as on the draft textbook, I consider it necessary to make the following remarks.
1. CHARACTER OF ECONOMIC LAWS UNDER SOCIALISM
Some comrades deny the objective character of laws of science, and of laws of political economy particularly, under socialism. They deny that the laws of political economy reflect law-governed processes which operate independently of the will of man. They believe that in view of the specific role assigned to the Soviet state by history, the Soviet state and its leaders can abolish existing laws of political economy and can “form,” “create,” new laws.
These comrades are profoundly mistaken. It is evident that they confuse laws of science, which reflect objective processes in nature or society, processes which take place independently of the will of man, with the laws which are issued by governments, which are made by the will of man, and which have only juridical validity. But they must not be confused.
Marxism regards laws of science — whether they be laws of natural science or laws of political economy — as the reflection of objective processes which take place independently of the will of man. Man may discover these laws, get to know them, study them, reckon with them in his activities and utilize them in the interests of society, but he cannot change or abolish them. Still less can he form or create new laws of science.
Does this mean, for instance, that the results of the action of the laws of nature, the results of the action of the forces of nature, are generally inavertible, that the destructive action of the forces of nature always and everywhere proceeds with an elemental and inexorable power that does not yield to the influence of man? No, it does not. Leaving aside astronomical, geological and other similar processes, which man really is powerless to influence, even if he has come to know the laws of their development, in many other cases man is very far from powerless, in the sense of being able to influence the processes of nature. In all such cases, having come to know the laws of nature, reckoning with them and relying on them, and intelligently applying and utilizing them, man can restrict their sphere of action, and can impart a different direction to the destructive forces of nature and convert them to the use of society.
To take one of numerous examples. In olden times the overflow of big rivers, floods, and the resulting destruction of homes and crops, was considered an inavertible calamity, against which man was powerless. But with the lapse of time and the development of human knowledge, when man had learned to build dams and hydro-electric stations, it became possible to protect society from the calamity of flood which had formerly seemed to be inavertible. More, man learned to curb the destructive forces of nature, to harness them, so to speak, to convert the force of water to the use of society and to utilize it for the irrigation of fields and the generation of power.
Does this mean that man has thereby abolished laws of nature, laws of science, and has created new laws of nature, new laws of science? No, it does not. The fact is that all this procedure of averting the action of the destructive forces of water and of utilizing them in the interests of society takes place without any violation, alteration or abolition of scientific laws or the creation of new scientific laws. On the contrary, all this procedure is effected in precise conformity with the laws of nature and the laws of science, since any violation, even the slightest, of the laws of nature would only upset matters and render the procedure futile.
The same must be said of the laws of economic development, the laws of political economy — whether in the period of capitalism or in the period of socialism. Here, too, the laws of economic development, as in the case of natural science, are objective laws, reflecting processes of economic development which take place independently of the will of man. Man may discover these laws, get to know them and, relying upon them, utilize them in the interests of society, impart a different direction to the destructive action of some of the laws, restrict their sphere of action, and allow fuller scope to other laws that are forcing their way to the forefront; but he cannot destroy them or create new economic laws.
One of the distinguishing features of political economy is that its laws, unlike those of natural science, are impermanent, that they, or at least the majority of them, operate for a definite historical period, after which they give place to new laws. However, these laws are not abolished, but lose their validity owing to the new economic conditions and depart from the scene in order to give place to new laws, laws which are not created by the will of man, but which arise from the new economic conditions.
Reference is made to Engels’ Anti-Dühring, to his formula which says that, with the abolition of capitalism and the socialization of the means of production, man will obtain control of his means of production, that he will be set free from the yoke of social and economic relations and become the “master” of his social life. Engels calls this freedom “appreciation of necessity.” And what can this “appreciation of necessity” mean? It means that, having come to know objective laws (“necessity”), man will apply them with full consciousness in the interests of society. That is why Engels says in the same book:
“The laws of his own social action, hitherto standing face to face with man as laws of nature foreign to, and dominating him, will then be used with full understanding, and so mastered by him.”
As we see, Engels’ formula does not speak at all in favour of those who think that under socialism existing economic laws can be abolished and new ones created. On the contrary, it demands, not the abolition, but the understanding of economic laws and their intelligent application.
It is said that economic laws are elemental in character, that their action is inavertible and that society is powerless against them. That is not true. It is making a fetish of laws, and oneself the slave of laws. It has been demonstrated that society is not powerless against laws, that, having come to know economic laws and relying upon them, society can restrict their sphere of action, utilize them in the interests of society and “harness” them, just as in the case of the forces of nature and their laws, just as in the case of the overflow of big rivers cited in the illustration above.
Reference is made to the specific role of Soviet government in building socialism, which allegedly enables it to abolish existing laws of economic development and to “form” new ones. That also is untrue.
The specific role of Soviet government was due to two circumstances: first, that what Soviet government had to do was not to replace one form of exploitation by another, as was the case in earlier revolutions, but to abolish exploitation altogether; second, that in view of the absence in the country of any ready-made rudiments of a socialist economy, it had to create new, socialist forms of economy, “starting from scratch,” so to speak.
That was undoubtedly a difficult, complex and unprecedented task. Nevertheless, the Soviet government accomplished this task with credit. But it accomplished it not because it supposedly destroyed the existing economic laws and “formed” new ones, but only because it relied on the economic law that the relations of production must necessarily conform with the character of the productive forces. The productive forces of our country, especially in industry, were social in character, the form of ownership, on the other hand, was private, capitalistic. Relying on the economic law that the relations of production must necessarily conform with the character of the productive forces, the Soviet government socialized the means of production, made them the property of the whole people, and thereby abolished the exploiting system and created socialist forms of economy. Had it not been for this law, and had the Soviet government not relied upon it, it could not have accomplished its mission.
The economic law that the relations of production must necessarily conform with the character of the productive forces has long been forcing its way to the forefront in the capitalist countries. If it has failed so far to force its way into the open, it is because it is encountering powerful resistance on the part of obsolescent forces of society. Here we have another distinguishing feature of economic laws. Unlike the laws of natural science, where the discovery and application of a new law proceeds more or less smoothly, the discovery and application of a new law in the economic field, affecting as it does the interests of obsolescent forces of society, meets with the most powerful resistance on their part. A force, a social force, capable of overcoming this resistance, is therefore necessary. In our country, such a force was the alliance of the working class and the peasantry, who represented the overwhelming majority of society. There is no such force yet in other, capitalist countries. This explains the secret why the Soviet government was able to smash the old forces of society, and why in our country the economic law that the relations of production must necessarily conform with the character of the productive forces received full scope.
It is said that the necessity for balanced (proportionate) development of the national economy in our country enables the Soviet government to abolish existing economic laws and to create new ones. That is absolutely untrue. Our yearly and five-yearly plans must not be confused with the objective economic law of balanced, proportionate development of the national economy. The law of balanced development of the national economy arose in opposition to the law of competition and anarchy of production under capitalism. It arose from the socialization of the means of production, after the law of competition and anarchy of production had lost its validity. It became operative because a socialist economy can be conducted only on the basis of the economic law of balanced development of the national economy. That means that the law of balanced development of the national economy makes it possible for our planning bodies to plan social production correctly. But possibility must not be confused with actuality. They are two different things. In order to turn the possibility into actuality, it is necessary to study this economic law, to master it, to learn to apply it with full understanding, and to compile such plans as fully reflect the requirements of this law. It cannot be said that the requirements of this economic law are fully reflected by our yearly and five-yearly plans.
It is said that some of the economic laws operating in our country under socialism, including the law of value, have been “transformed,” or even “radically transformed,” on the basis of planned economy. That is likewise untrue. Laws cannot be “transformed,” still less “radically” transformed. If they can be transformed, then they can be abolished and replaced by other laws. The thesis that laws can be “transformed” is a relic of the incorrect formula that laws can be “abolished” or “formed.” Although the formula that economic laws can be transformed has already been current in our country for a long time, it must be abandoned for the sake of accuracy. The sphere of action of this or that economic law may be restricted, its destructive action — that is, of course, if it is liable to be destructive — may be averted, but it cannot be “transformed” or “abolished.”
Consequently, when we speak of “subjugating” natural forces or economic forces, of “dominating” them, etc., this does not mean that man can “abolish” or “form” scientific laws. On the contrary, it only means that man can discover laws, get to know them and master them, learn to apply them with full understanding, utilize them in the interests of society, and thus subjugate them, secure mastery over them.
Hence, the laws of political economy under socialism are objective laws, which reflect the fact that the processes of economic life are law-governed and operate independently of our will. People who deny this postulate are in point of fact denying science, and, by denying science, they are denying all possibility of prognostication — and, consequently, are denying the possibility of directing economic activity.
It may be said that all this is correct and generally known; but that there is nothing new in it, and that it i