Courtesy Reuters

Economic Controversy in the Soviet Union

Be able if necessary to learn from the capitalists. Adopt whatever they have that is sensible and advantageous.-Lenin

THE resurrection of these words of Lenin's by Khrushchev at the November Plenum of the Communist Party in 1962 surprised many Western observers. Against the backdrop of recent Soviet economic growth, it may appear somewhat anomalous to see the Soviets contemplating the adoption of some of our basic economic methods.

Especially intriguing is the suggestion by some Russian economists that profits in Soviet industry should be given a more functional role. Actually, upgrading the significance of profits and acknowledging shortcomings in their system of economic planning is nothing new for Soviet economists; in their candid moments, they often raise both issues. What is new is that some specific proposals related to these matters have been singled out for national consideration.

With Khrushchev's approval, the suggestions of E. Liberman, Professor at the Kharkov Engineering and Economics Institute, have become the focus of one of the most provocative and far-reaching discussions in Soviet economic thought.[i] The current dispute is second in intellectual vigor only to the debates of the 1920s which preceded the decision to industrialize. Unlike other recent economic disagreements, this one is marked by freedom and openness. Absent is the use of doctrinal citation and flag-waving. In contrast to the average Soviet economic discussion, almost no appeal is made to Marx, Lenin or even Khrushchev for ideological justification. Paeans to the superiority of the Soviet Union over the United States, a prerequisite in almost all past debates, have suddenly disappeared. In what appears to be an attempt to probe the essence of the problem, ideas are left to stand or fall on their own merit.

While the tone of the debate is itself significant, of even greater importance are the implications of the proposals being made and the reasons why they are being raised at this time. Before we examine these matters let us outline the general goals of Liberman's economic reforms

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