Re: [OPE-L] Che's Economics

From: Alejandro Agafonow (alejandro_agafonow@YAHOO.ES)
Date: Sat May 05 2007 - 08:37:37 EDT

The drama of Che-Gevara and his followers was that they didn’t count with the appropriate technology to abrogate the “law of value” in a socialist economy; the technology to manage the huge apparatus of labour time accounting. If Che were living today I think he would join C&C alternative.
I mostly agree with Jurriaan. But his statement is applicable to soviet economic doctrine before 2º world war. After that time economic soviet authority explicitly recognized the necessity to rest the socialist economic institutions on market formulae, even though NEP policy back to the 20’ implied this issue. This makes Che-Guevara’s stance attributable to his romantic vision of socialism and also, as Jurriaan said, his under-theorised power.
The USSR doctrinal change was announced by an anonymous paper publish in a soviet journal in 1943:
“Socialist economic management is based on an accurate correlation of the expenditures of labour and materials on the one hand with the results of production on the other […] But comparisons of the expenses of the firm in a given period with the whole mass of production for the same period presupposes reduction of both expenses and results of production to a single denominator. Such a common denominator exists: it is the value of the commodities. Cost accounting is based on the fact that expenses and results of production are carried on in value form, i.e., are expressed in the form of definite sums of money […] Thus we see that there is no basis for considering that the law of value is abrogated in the socialist system of national economy. On the contrary, it functions under socialism but it functions in a transformed manner.” (pp. 524-525)
Best regards,
Alejandro Agafonow

----- Mensaje original ----
De: Jurriaan Bendien <adsl675281@TISCALI.NL>
Enviado: sábado, 5 de mayo, 2007 13:47:53
Asunto: [OPE-L] Che's Economics

I remember reading Carlos Tablada's book on Che's budgetary system and
thinking it wasn't very good or informative - a lot of unctious, eulogising
Marxist-Leninist ideology rather than good, hard content that makes sense.

Che himself was a very astute Marxist thinker who understood the theoretical
tradition and what the general problems were, but his socialist economics
was still very distorted by the Russian Marxist-Leninist doctrines formed in
the course of war, and Che did not yet understand well the relationship
between politics and economics, i.e. the forcefield of power as mediated by
organisation. He under-theorised power.

The Soviet Marxists had been educated to be hostile against markets, without
understanding what markets were, and they operated with grotesquely
doctrinaire ideas about organisational theory and about property rights. The
Marxist-Leninist tradition therefore did not contain much sensible
discussion about socialist economics, and the bureaucratic dictatorship
prevented anybody from calling a spade a spade in Soviet economic science,
unless it was politically convenient.

See e.g.  for a
brief online summary of Che's economics.

Che's writings in English translation are usefully collected in John
Gerassi, Venceremos: the Speeches and Writings of Che Guevara (New York,

The "great debate" on socialist economics and the law of value is collected
in English translation by Bertram Silverman (ed), Man and Socialism in Cuba;
The Great Debate. New York: Atheneum, 1971. (This was with Bettelheim,
Mandel, Che etc.)

Michael Lowy's "The Marxism of Che Guevara" also has a section on Che's

The general consensus as far as I know is that while Che was very bright,
dedicated organiser and an innovator, he was an idealist and his budgetary
finance system in the end did not really work in practice. Che often
thought, like many Marxists do, that general abstract theory can be a
direct, immediate ("ideological") guide to solving highly specific problems
of production and trade, and he thought that Marxism contained a
comprehensive and consistent universal moral theory. He was obviously wrong
on both counts, and consequently when he succeeded in his policy it had
little directly to do with his Marxism.

Nevertheless he's an important thinker, insofar as he theoretically
formulated some of the problems in organising production and distribution
when you abolish monetised markets, or when market economy is impossible
because of trade boycotts - i.e. what do people stand to gain from
cooperating in production when there are no markets, and consequently what
would motivate them to produce quality goods and services for others. These
issues will remain pertinent irrespective of the type of social relations
that prevail in an economy.


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