A critical contribution to an understanding of the nature of Soviet society with special reference to working class self-assertion

Fernandez, Neil C (1995) A critical contribution to an understanding of the nature of Soviet society with special reference to working class self-assertion. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

Of the various Marxist or Marx-influenced works on the USSR, many have criticised the Soviet system as being based either on capitalism or class exploitation in a new guise. Few, though, have analysed the class struggle in any depth. The principal aim of this thesis is to place an understanding of this struggle at the centre of an understanding of Soviet political economy; and in doing so, to broaden the scope of the Autonomist Marxist critique. First, a description is given of the overall theoretical approach. Described as communist, this is governed by concepts elaborated within the poorly-known political tendency which has consistently fought for the abolition of wage-labour, money, and the State. References are made to works by Marx, Negri, Cleaver, Pannekoek, and Debord. Given that the 'null hypothesis' regarding the failure of a wartime revolutionary proletarian movement must be that the production relations remained capitalist, a critique is then made of the various existing theories of Soviet capitalism. (Some depict the system as 'state capitalist; others do not.) These are shown to offer an inadequately profound understanding of Soviet economic bureaucracy, and an insufficient demonstration of the dominance of the category of capital. A new theory is therefore developed. Soviet relations of consumption, distribution, and production are shown to be based on generalised exchange; the form of labour is shown to be wage-labour (abstract labour); and a drive for growth is shown to be intrinsic to the economic system. Categories of value, surplus value, and capital are identified. In relation to the specific functioning of the cycle of investment and production, important new concepts are introduced of bureaucratic exchange-value and bureaucratic money. Attention is then turned to the class struggle. First, various 'sovietological' analyses are shown to fall short of providing an understanding even of the existence of such a struggle. A few broader conceptions have the merit of relating to overall views of the nature of the system, but these hardly amount to critiques of the political economy. Next, various 'Marxist' theories are considered: that is, theories which use Marxian terminology but which neglect to consider the working class as a force independent of representation. (Official 'Communist' theories, not being held to be critical, are not considered). These are categorised according to three theories of the nature of the system: the 'degenerated workers' state,' 'capitalism,' and the 'mode of production sui generis.' Although there are many 'Marxist' views of the political-economic nature of the system, few have brought into their theorisation a consideration of working class struggle. And even the exceptions have not traced the class polarities through with consistent resolution. Then, once it is shown that the class struggle in the USSR has not been paid a great deal of attention by communists either, consideration is given to the theories of Dunayevskaya and James, Castoriadis, and Ticktin. Although Ticktin's theory suggests a profound understanding of class antagonism, it remains restricted by concepts of non-capitalist 'exceptionalism' and capitalist 'decline.' This is the first time that the theories of the nature of the USSR have been criticised in systematic relation to what they say about the working class and its struggle. After a theoretical description is given of the class struggle under capitalism in general - with emphasis on opposition to the control over the circuits of capital and labour-power - an original view is constructed of the relationship between class struggle and capitalist political economy in the USSR. Working class power is discussed not simply in opposition to the control over capital, but also in relation to the problems of that control in the context of capitalist growth. Whilst capitalist domination in the USSR did enter the period of relative surplus value extraction, and wages rose, the form of growth - involving the systemic prioritisation of material investment and 'gross output - was based merely on increasing productivity, and not also on labour intensification (accelerated turnover). The rulers thus made substantial concessions to the workers' struggle for less hard work, especially in terms of product quality. This ensured that the capitalist subsumption of labour, although 'real' rather than simply 'formal,' was not only inefficient but eventually chronically so. This conclusion is corroborated with reference to the importance ascribed by Gorbachev, Aganbegian, and Zaslavskaia to the 'human factor' and the need to interest (zainteresovat') workers in their work.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Adviser: Hillel Ticktin
Keywords: Russian history, Labor relations, Labor economics, Social structure
Date of Award: 1995
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1995-71696
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 17 May 2019 09:31
Last Modified: 17 May 2019 09:31
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/71696

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