This is a chapter from the book:
The Victory of Morality over Socialism

Chapter 2. “Political responsibility” as serving objective restraints vs. serving the people

In the “East bloc” too, “political responsibility” is one of those “burdens” that can be carried much more easily and pleasantly all one’s professional life than the dignity of a citizen, who must not only vote but also has quite a bit of work to do. Finding personnel for governing has thus never been a problem over there either. But “political responsibility” means something slightly different in these socialist countries. This is not because Soviet “party bosses” have a quite different morality of ruling; this morality is only as different as the political leader’s job itself.

For example, both Eastern and Western mayors, provincial leaders and ministers of housing declare themselves responsible for erecting such and such an amount of living space in the past and coming years. But this is where the similarity ends.

In one case, it is a matter of making corresponding demands on the overall national plan, the partial plans of the firms in charge of building, building material, transportation, etc., ensuring the necessary coordination, “stimulating” the firms and workers to keep to the promised deadlines … At the same time, those in charge must not merely demonstrate organizational skill, but must cope with an unconfessed contradiction. This contradiction is that the state plan obliges the firms, on the one hand, to work expediently to satisfy the existing need for living space — but, on the other hand, to produce a profit. The plan does not simply lay down the necessary accomplishments but decrees prices for them. It is not simply the material need that is registered, but a limited “purchasing power” brought about by allotted funds. And it is not simply the product that is important, but a maximum difference between the earnings and the financial expenditure of the firms — which are in turn at the disposal of the planning authorities for their calculations.

This state’s interest in meeting people’s needs with the necessary amount of labor thus transforms itself into amass of antagonisms. Between material need and financial resources. Between the paying orderer and the invoicing firms. Between the duty to perform as well as possible and the duty to earn a profit to supply a variety of funds. Between the firm’s interest in maximizing these funds for “stimulating” the achievements of its managers and staff, on the one hand, and the state’s interest in maximizing these funds for supplying the financial needs of the planning authorities, on the other. And so on.

Anyone who believes in the constructions of bourgeois economists and thinks money is an ingenious and practical invention of mankind for coordinating the production of goods in the best possible way with society’s needs, and vice versa, can learn a thing or two from the economic policy of the “East bloc” states. They do not conduct a planned economy, but put into practice in their economic plans this very lie that “money as an economic lever” is useful for improving planning and distribution, of all things.

Such antagonisms are no problem for housing politicians in the West, because their point of departure is not seriously the need for living space, but the market situation. There is nothing more natural for them than to measure people’s need by their ability to pay, and the business interests of house-building companies. They thus act out of respect for the real function and purpose of money, to enable property to increase, subordinating the needs of the public to this goal.

The administrators of the state power disclaim any responsibility for these “objective laws of the housing market.” They claim to be virtually powerless with respect to the profitable exploitation of people’s need for housing — a lie that is of greatest benefit to them. Who else is responsible for bringing into being the legal relationship of property, including real estate, and the lack of property, as well as the economic means for exploiting this relationship? Who supervises their functioning and punishes violations? The state power lets the social conditions which it arranges take effect: land ownership and rent, monetary capital and the building trade, the need for space and the lack of money. It then treats the result —a lack of affordable housing, which therefore only affects some people — as a problem that human existence happens to involve. .

The politicians in charge “cope” with this “problem” by offering a strange kind of “help.” To the extent that it is crucial for the usefulness of the working people as a whole, they “organize” the procurement of housing. They set up government agencies. They subsidize the housing business out of everyone’s tax money to make many people’s rent halfway affordable. They take over the management of unprofitable projects. They assume no responsibility for the fact that the need for housing is all too often thwarted by the market and its “situation”; they are inevitably out to “improve” the market.

The only criticism they will hear is the highly uncritical accusation that they have done “too little” for the market — or perhaps “wasted too much tax money.” Whether or not they are forgiven for this does not depend at all on whether the housing trouble persists, but on whether they are personally credible with their lie that they have squandered away neither too little nor too much but exactly what was possible for their department. And as long as those affected believe and accept the “objective constraints” of the housing market, democratic politicians have an easy time of it with their joyfully assumed “responsibility for house building.”

There is no comparison at all with their Soviet colleagues. Not only does their “socialist planning and control activity” involve much tougher dilemmas than choosing between competing applications for building permits and requests for subsidies. They cannot justify the results of their policies by citing the “objective laws of the market” supposedly outside their province. At best they can hide behind the “failures” of all kinds of other offices, which in turn lay the responsibility on them. Their “responsibility for supplying the population with living space” is not just empty talk for Eastern politicians (as already evident from the low rent). And this is precisely their “bad luck” compared with the ease of democratic governing in and for the “market economy.”

It is no different with the political “responsibility” for “economic growth” and “full employment,” farmers’ income and education. Both Western and Eastern politicians want their citizens’ “standard of living,” along with all real or fictitious conditions for it, to be attributed to their prudent and successful supervisory activity. But they mean very different things.

The Westerners rely on the “silent force of circumstances” which they cement with their all too eloquent laws. They can be sure that, one way or another, the competition between the citizens committed to private property will guarantee an expedient distinction between “poor and rich” and an equally expedient cooperation between capital and labor. They can rely on their people behaving as opportunists toward all the necessities imposed on them — one can always credibly cite the “objective restraints” of money. Certain that they will not be held answerable for this finished world of pressures they constantly look after, they claim sole responsibility for regulating all resulting problems, both the real ones and the ones invented for the purpose of gaining status. Such efforts have nothing to do with eliminating the massive difficulties of everyday existence they have brought about.

The latter is what Soviet politicians want to do. When democrats portray their “objective constraints” as being unrelenting, but at the same time a system of conveniences their people has picked out for itself from the great assortment of models offered by world history, this is apologetic nonsense. The governing parties of the “East bloc,” however, have actually got rid of all “objective constraints of the market economy,” abolished the competition of capital along with its class of owners, and introduced general state control to allow the working people to enjoy the uncurtailed fruits of their labor. They have transformed this purpose from a hypocritical ideal of justice born of class society, into an organic law of politics.

The fact that the masses’ “enjoyment” leaves much to be desired is not due to the “gulf between ideals and reality” that bourgeois minds cite to explain (away) poverty and exploitation in the midst of the finest democracies. It is due even less to the decision to plan the economy. It is the Party’s failure to carry through with this decision that explains why it does not make its society happier. Even when “the commanding heights of the economy are conquered,” money and credit, prices and profits, wages and premiums are, once and for all, in spite of all bloc-bridging ideologies, no suitable means or “levers” for establishing the proper relationship between people’s needs, their means of production and their labor to benefit themselves. The responsibility that Eastern politicians assume for social production and satisfying all needs is no democratic hypocrisy that at the same time disclaims the state power’s real responsibility for the market economy. The trouble with the existing socialism is that its state managers make a mistake — and that they try to correct it with more mistakes.

Self-criticism can be found in every speech an “East bloc” politician makes to the people and voters. It is of a very different kind to that practiced by democratic greats. Western-style self-reproach will most likely relate to a lost election and regularly ends up in the accusation of having over-estimated the voters’ intelligence. And when it relates to other “misconduct,” everyone knows — and is told so, just to be sure — that the paraded remorse expects to be rewarded: by a high opinion and lots of votes at the next opportunity.

When Soviet politicians criticize themselves for having been careless in organizing the harvest or allotting raw materials to the firms, in realizing technical advances or utilizing the suggestions for innovations made by meritorious workers, for having tolerated corruption and negligence, they are not being hypocritical in the good old democratic tradition. People caught taking bribes are not given any opportunity to curry favor by making self-accusations! Eastern style self-criticism reflects the honestly mistaken attitude of having managed to bring about a proper planned economy by nationalizing the capitalist system of competition, but still having to combat frequent “errors of management” — which are referred to over there, rather awkwardly but quite sincerely, as “violations of the economic laws of socialism.” In this way, “socialist self-criticism” stimulates the circulation of both officeholders and reform programs, without the esteemed working population getting too much out of it.