‘Developed Socialism’ and Soviet Economic Thought in the 1970s and Early ’80s

in Russian History
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The present paper is part of a larger project by the same author that deals with the relationship between economic ideas and institutional change in post-socialist Russia. The paper develops two main theses: First, it argues that the concept of “developed socialism” as introduced by Leonid Brezhnev in 1971 on the one hand deprived the planned economy of political “mobilizing energy”, yet at the other hand prevented it from turning it into a self-organizing system. Thus it was, I argue, the perfect recipe for stagnation. Secondly, based on Imre Lakatos’ theory of scientific research programs, I argue that the concept of developed socialism in its official Soviet version can be seen as an attempt to cushion the critique of central planning that had developed in some of the Central Eastern European countries in the 1960s: By allowing some more, yet insignificant critiques (broadening the protective belt), the hard core of the ideological program (e.g. the structure of property rights) was made safer against criticism. The inability of Gorbachev’s economic advisors to provide practical guidance for reforms was, I argue, partly due to the fact that the ideology of developed socialism had favored an “idealist turn” in economics. As a result of this turn, the shestidesyatniki generation of Soviet political economists had rather little to say about economic reality.

‘Developed Socialism’ and Soviet Economic Thought in the 1970s and Early ’80s

in Russian History




Alfred B. Evans“Developed Socialism in Soviet Ideology,” Soviet Studies29 no. 3 (1977): 409–428; Donald R. Kelley The Politics of Developed Socialism: The Soviet Union as a Post-Industrial State (New York: Greenwood Press 1977); Mark Sandle “Brezhnev and Developed Socialism: The Ideology of Zastoi?” Edwin Bacon and Mark Sandle eds. Brezhnev Reconsidered (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan 2002) 165–187.


G.S. LisichkinPlan i rynok (Moscow: Ekonomika1966) 266.


 See SutelaEconomic Thought15–18.


K.V. OstrovitianovPoliticheskaia ekonomiia. Uchebnik (Moscow: Izdatel’stvo Politicheskoi Literatury1954).


And towards the end of the 1960sthis argument increasingly made its way into the academic journals. For example in a paper published in Voprosy ekonomiki in 1969 Nina S. Spiridonova demanded that the khozraschetnye otnosheniia had to form the basic form of planning: N. S. Spriridonova “Khoziaistvennyi raschet v sisteme socialisticheskich proizvodstvennykh otnoshenii’ Voprosy ėkonomiki 2 (1969) 5–28.


Leonid I. BrezhnevFifty Years of Great Achievements of Socialism (Moscow: Novosti Press1967).


G. Latysheva and A. Sergeyev“Vysshaya tsel obshchestvennogo proizvodstva pri sotsializme,” Voprosy ekonomiki12 (1978) 94–105105. The semantic differentiation between the two categories of ‘laws’ caused Soviet social scientists some considerable headaches before they finally agreed on concepts such as “spetsificheskie cherty.” One author for example dedicated two full-length papers to the proposal to distinguish between “economic laws” [zakony] and “regularities” [zakonomersti]: Y. Bzhilianskii “K voprosu ob ekonomicheskoi zakanomernosti” Voprosy ekonomiki 10 (1973) 62–72; Y. Bzhilyanskii “Ekonomicheskie zaknomernosti razvitogo sotsializma” Voprosy ekonomiki 11 (1975) 56–66.


Arthur E. King“The Macroeconomic Impact of the Czechoslovak New Economic Mechanism,” Economics of Planning15 no 2/3 (1979) 99–125; Geoffrey R. Denton A New Economic Mechanism. Economic Reform in Hungary (London: PEP 1971); S.M. Eddie: “Hungarian Economic Reform 1968–1989: The Illusions and Delusions of the New Economic Mechanism” in: Ivan T. Berend et al. eds. A Gazdaságtörténet Kihívásai. Anulmányok Berend T. Iván 65. zSzületésnapjára (Challenges of Economic History) (Budapest: Godi 1996) 383–394.


Sutela and Mau“Economics under Socialism” 53.


Leonid I. AbalkinKhozyaistvennyi mekhanizm razvitogo sotsialisticheskgo obshchestva (Moscow: Mysl1973) 13.


Sandle“Brezhnev and Developed Socialism” 172.


Sutela and Mau“Economics under Socialism” 72.


I. I. Kuzminov“Politicheskaia ekonomiia” 26; Safarov Razvitoi sotsializm 12.


MedvedevRazvitoi sotsializm25.


Ibid. 230; A. Sergeev“O sisteme ekonomicheskikh zakonov v usloviiakh razvitogo sotsializma,” Voprosy ekonomiki1 1974 55–65 56; G. A. Kozlov “Ob osnovnom ekonomicheskom zakone v usloviiakh razvitogo sotsializma” Voprosy ekonomiki 5 1973 3–16 12.


AbalkinKhoziaistvennyi Mekhanizm35–6.


KozlovRazvitoi sotsializm26.


L. I. Abalkin“Rynok v ekonomicheskoi sisteme sotsializma,” Voprosy ekonomiki7 (1989) 3–126–7.


L. I. Abalkin“Sotsialisticheskaia sobstvennost’: Problemy perestroika,”Voprosy ekonomiki4 (1989) 85.


Yegor T. GaidarState and Evolution: Russia’s Search for a Free Market (Seattle: University of Washington Press2003) 104.


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