This is a chapter from the book:
The Victory of Morality over Socialism
Chapter 2. Complaints as an economic resource
The CPSU appeals to its masses’ dissatisfied materialism as a motive for making thorough changes. This would be as revolutionary as the Party constantly claims it is if the free materialism of the working population were really the matter at issue. But, instead, the CP speculates on the people’s desires for improvement, people who have made themselves at home in the system of state-created “objective restraints.” They are to support a reform which consists mainly in demanding more “flexibility” from people — from each in his place — so they can contribute more to the economy. The “bureaucracy” is attacked as the main obstacle to general improvements, but for only one practical purpose: no one should be able to excuse his or her actions with a good conscience by referring to directives from above, when these actions have not produced the desired results. The Party’s criticism is aimed at the “bureaucratism in us all.” It gives its people permission to gripe, because it is bent on making people’s morale the supreme and most effective of all society’s productive forces.
The CPSU has launched a campaign criticizing the planning and control bureaucracy that it itself created and entrusted with its tasks.
This bureaucracy does deserve criticism: for everything it does. It wages the paper war over the fulfilment of quotas, which is a necessary result of the contradictory norms of “cost-accounting,” of “stimulating material interests.” But this is exactly what the Party does not attack. It instead takes the economically substanceless viewpoint that the mere issuing of planned targets and the large number of them are themselves nothing but obstacles to the expedient functioning of their planned economy. There has supposedly been far too much “administrating,” on the one hand — so that no one bothers to observe all the regulations, on the other. Instead of criticizing the bureaucrats’ actions, the Party cultivates the cheap — and very bourgeois — suspicion that their paperwork is one big brake for the really much more dynamic dynamics of the Soviet economy.
This theoretical stupidity has the practical advantage that the “concrete suggestions for improvement” result quite automatically — which is the whole point of this stupidity in the first place. The general message is: don’t wait, tackle it yourself whenever the need arises. And this imperative is by no means as empty as it sounds and would be under the conditions of bourgeois society. It is supposed to stimulate the desire to eliminate all the everyday deficiencies. People are to start looking for the next best eliminable failure. And no Soviet person has to look for long. It is a necessary phenomenon — in this system of universal and complex stimulation of self-interest — for zealous people everywhere to do what is prescribed without bringing it into any reasonable relationship with the useful material effect that the plan aims at, what with its convoluted value-based methods. And at the same time nothing is easier than to regard these necessary “phenomena” in each individual case from the simple commonsense standpoint of a goods economy without money and to condemn them as being quite superfluous, or even outrageous, absurdities, while the planning and control system invented by the CPSU treats them as complex problems of commodity-money relations or cost-accounting.
It is hard to outdo Gorbachev’s cynicism when he, the leading comrade, publicly heads this complaint program that has been part of Soviet socialism as long as it has existed. For if this call for complaints were meant seriously, anyone with his wits about him would sooner or later have to make up his mind whether he wants to take the part of people’s wants and the best way of satisfying them, or to side with the system of economic control by values. But this decision is the last thing the Party is putting on the agenda. It wants people to get busy within the system and combat, by way of compensation, the closest reachable mistakes this system produces. This is why it agrees with all complaints, even invites them, only to hand them back to its complaining people — or, even worse, to people who have not even presented any specific complaints — with instructions to attend to them promptly.
After seventy years of experience the Party naturally knows the dodges of the complaint business as soon as it is taken literally — which is certainly no brand-new idea of the new General Secretary. Just as everyone has enough sense to be able to denounce a concrete nuisance, if necessary, everyone of course also has his norms, regulations and stimuli which make it impossible for him to do away with any annoyance on his own responsibility. And of course this too is always true: when everything goes by rules, they are inevitably what is in the way — unless a case of criminal breach of duty is exposed. And then the person responsible is in for it, which is not exactly a criticism of the so very breachable duties either. But this scapegoat game, also rich in tradition, is not enough for the Party at the moment. It is therefore declaring the bureaucracy as a whole to be the main and general scapegoat, to deprive its people quite fundamentally of the argument of quoting the regulations when bad results come about. It agrees globally with the lament over “the apparatus,” which every individual is disappointed with and can use as an excuse — no matter where he is in “the apparatus,” — only to reject this same lament by an overriding super-regulation: whenever someone discovers a deplorable state of affairs conforming with the regulations, from now on it is the will of the Party that he is right and the regulation is wrong.
In terms of its logic, this method is the way rulers shut grumblers up; hut this is not how the CPSU means and practices it. It actually does want change — in its compensatory sense. And it knows the place well enough to find out which departments could do with a global relaxation of planning directives: these departments are promptly given new directives and liberties. Thus, that lousy practice, congenital to the lever economy, of overcoming deficiencies and bottlenecks by the art of “organizing,” of trading or working “underground” at the enterprise and even higher levels, obtaining preferred delivery by bribery, etc., wins honor in the new law on enterprises. It permits lend-lease contracts between firms, special prices for special services and the like, that is, it legalizes quite a bit of what has been customary up to now but prohibited. It is already certain today that the Party will soon have to deplore the abuse of these liberties to the detriment of normal firm activities. And it is unfortunately just as certain that this will not make the CPSU realize what nonsense its economic lever system is, but will lead it to continue undauntedly its search for an increasingly masterful set of liberties and regulations.
The Party’s imperative that common sense should be given priority over bureaucratic regulations in case of conflict is intended quite generally; and this by no means makes its citizens’ lives easier. After all, the regulations, globally relaxed in this way, still apply in each individual case in which one’s personal sense of responsibility is to come first. And if one’s personal commitment does not prove itself through material success, it does not help to cite the urging from those at the top: there is a breach of duty to be punished. To give private initiative a chance nonetheless, the Party has laid down another regulation: a ban on the ban on criticism. Not even this makes the CPSU notice how many quite unsensible relations of command and subordination it has carried into its society with its silly control “mechanisms.” It prefers to grapple with the apt problem of whether it is not opening the door to the querulous …
Beyond such “difficulties” it is clear what the Party is demanding of its people when it appeals to them to gripe and improve things. They are to prove themselves more efficient than before in performing the additional task of correcting the lever economy on their own initiative wherever its results leave something to be desired — which is just about everywhere, in view of the Party’s demands. In any case, for the CPSU itself this moral imperative has become such a fixture that it already sorts its people out conceptually in terms of this criterion. There are those who take an active part, and there are those who “brake,” for whom a whole typology exists, ranging from the malicious to the involuntary. In practice the Party is thus out to make its masses’ morale the economic lever for guaranteeing the useful operation of all the ingenious instruments which are supposed to give real existence to the paradox of a “socialist law of value” and thereby benefit the state. This is like an admission that the actual basis for the whole business about make-believe economic laws is simply its commands and its people’s obedience. But such an admission would already be the first step to improvement; it would be a chance to turn the abolition of private property seventy years ago into communism after all.
And it would be the opposite of the glasnost campaign the CPSU is deceiving its people with.