Class structure and production relations in the U.S.S.R.
This thesis analyses the extent and forms of class relations in the Soviet Union. The theoretical approach adopted to the analysis 'of the Soviet class structure is based on a critique of the classical Marxist approach to class, as well as of common sociological approaches to class, particularly the Weberian conception of class. These issues are the concern of the Introduction, which outlines an alternative approach to class structure based on a conception of relations of production which differs from the classical Marxist approach, particularly in avoiding any reliance on the labour theory of value for defining relations of production and hence for demarcating class boundaries. Chapter One provides an outline of developments in the Soviet rural class structure in the 1920s, and by criticising common conceptions of such developments argues that the strategy of socialist transformation adopted in the policy of forced collectivisation was economically unnecessary and politically disastrous. The purpose of this Chapter is to throw the contemporary class structure of the Soviet Union into historical relief, by indicating the historical context out of which many contemporary features of the Soviet Union developed. It is hoped that this will indicate that many features of the contemporary social structure are historically specific, rather than being necessary features of a state socialist society. Following from this, the analysis of relations of production in the 1960s and 1970s is begun in Chapter Two, where the relations between different kinds of economic agents, particularly collective economic agents (economic units) are examined, using the approach developed in the Introduction to analyse the relations of production as relations between economic agents, which affect the relative economic capacities of agents. It is argued that, because such capacities are always subject to change through processes of struggle and negotiation, an important but hitherto rather neglected aspect of the relations ,of production concerns the policies of economic agents. Consequently, the manner in which agents at various levels in the economy calculate both their own internal state and the course of action which they adopt with respect to other agents is subjected to detailed scrutiny in this Chapter. Chapter Three analyses the legal and political conditions of the relations of production, since in the Soviet Union such economic relations are operative primarily between state agencies, or collective agencies whose relations to the state agencies are legally and politically regulated by the state. Consequently, the issue of the 'withering away of the state' with the decline of private property is considered, as well as various common Western conceptions of Soviet politics. Following on from this, the analysis of politics in terms of a series of 'arenas of struggle' is proposed, and in the light of this approach the capacities of the main central party and state agencies to regulate the economy (and hence to determine the relations of production by implementing effective economic plans) is reviewed. The conclusion from this review is that there are serious limits on the capacity of such central party and state agents to co-ordinate the division of labour, so that theories of an all-powerful totalitarian party or elite dominating Soviet politics and the economy are misguided. Nevertheless, it is argued that there is sufficient central control of the state agencies for one to be able to say that various state agencies do not pursue autonomous objectives. In other words, political relations between state agencies are not such as to preclude socialist planning of the overall economy. Chapter Four examines welfare and social policy as a means of assessing the importance of non-wage forms of income, and concludes that the overall effect of such forms of public expenditure is probably, as intended, to equalise incomes. This point is taken up again in Chapter Five, where the occupational structure and wage differentials are examined, prior to an overall assessment of the distribution of income, which concludes that a policy of income equalisation has been pursued fairly successfully over the past twenty-five years or so. While such a policy may now be running into difficulties of various kinds, in so far as it has been successfully pursued, it has meant that the connection between the distribution of income and the access of agents to the means of production has been partially undermined. Hence class relations have been seriously weakened in the Soviet Union, and it is concluded that they are non-existent within the state sector of the economy. However, this does not mean that there is no class structure in the Soviet Union since collective farm members are still in a different class position from state employees. There may also be capitalist relations in the so-called 'parallel economy' but their extent must be severely limited by the official prohibitions on such activities which means that, if resources are diverted from official purposes, this is largely done on an individual 'self-employed' basis. It is also argued that the 'intelligentsia' cannot be considered as a single, separate stratum from the state employed 'working class' or the collective farm members. Consequently, the official theory of the Soviet class structure must be considered to be seriously deficient.