the objective motives for people’s activities, reflecting the place of these people in the system of social production. “The economic relations of a given society,” wrote F. Engels, “present themselves in the first place as interests” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 18, p. 271). The relations of production are revealed precisely through the incentives of human activity, that is, as interests, which are objective conditions of social existence. Economic interests are reflected in the consciousness of people as set goals and are further revealed through the efforts of the will toward achieving the goals.
The proposition that economic interests have a determining role among the motivations of human behavior was first put forward by the French materialists of the 18th century and by the English school of classical political economy. But they regarded interests in themselves as suprahistorical, as the product of an unchanging “human nature.” A scientific analysis of economic interests was given by Marxism, which proceeded from the concept that social phenomena are based on production relations among people, relations that reflect the interests of particular classes (see V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 1, p. 532). As a form in which social relations manifest themselves, economic interests are a profound cause of social movements and of the class struggle. Political activity, in the last analysis, is aimed at satisfying the fundamental economic interests of classes. “The struggle between landed property and the bourgeoisie, no less than the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat,” wrote Engels, “was a question, first and foremost, of economic interests, to the furtherance of which political power was intended to serve merely as a means” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 21, p. 309). Lenin also noted the decisive role of economic interests: “The fundamental economic interests of the proletariat can be satisfied only by a political revolution that will replace the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie by the dictatorship of the proletariat” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 6, p. 46, footnote).
In presocialist socioeconomic formations the domination of private property gave rise to irreconcilable contradictions, the antagonisms between the economic interests of the exploiters and those of the exploited. Under capitalist conditions bourgeois production relations are manifested as the drive to appropriate surplus value; this is the basic motivation of the capitalist class. The economic interests of the bourgeoisie are internally contradictory. Marx wrote that “if all members of the modern bourgeoisie have the same interests inasmuch as they form a class as against another class, they have opposite interests…. This opposition of interests results from the economic conditions of their bourgeois life” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 4, p. 144). The antagonism of bourgeois society, based on private property, rules out the possibility of setting up a single goal for social development or of coordinated action in realizing such a goal. “Where there are no common interests, there can be no unity of purpose, much less of action,” as Engels points out (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., vol. 8, p. 14).
Socialism, by abolishing private ownership of the means of production, removes the antagonism between economic interests. On the basis of socialized property the unity of the economic interests of the working people is established, with the leading role being played by the interests of the people as a whole. At the same time, under socialism, the distinct economic interests of the two friendly classes, the workers and the peasants, do continue to exist, as do those of the intelligentsia, as an intermediate social stratum, and those of separate collectives of production enterprises; personal and a variety of other interests also continue to exist. The interests of the people as a whole are realized through the economic interests of the collectives of production enterprises and through those of individual working people. The means for realizing these interests are the mechanism of economic incentives and the principle of material interest. Society, through the medium of the socialist state, provides all the workers of enterprises with a material involvement in achieving results that correspond to and promote the satisfaction of the economic interests of the people as a whole. The necessity for this mode of realizing the overall interests of the people was substantiated by Lenin. The new society, he wrote, could be built “not [by] directly relying on enthusiasm, but aided by the enthusiasm engendered by the great revolution, and on the basis of personal interest, personal incentive, and business principles” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 44, p. 151).
The economic policy of the socialist state provides for that coordination of economic interests which will assure the realization of the most important principle of Soviet economic activity, that of combining the interests of society and of the collective with the interests of each worker. In this, the overall interests of the people play the guiding role.
The socialist state is the spokesman for the overall economic interests of the people. It assures the realization of their interests through planning, management of the economy, and economic incentives. In this way the proper coordination and mutual interaction of the whole system of economic interests of socialist society are achieved according to the principle “What is good for society is good for each enterprise and worker.”
The position and function of economic interests in the life of socialist society are crudely distorted by the revisionists. The advocates of “left” revisionism belittle the role of economic interests in socialist society, promote asceticism and leveling, and deny the Leninist principle of material incentives. Right opportunism denies the primacy of the overall economic interests of the people created by public socialist property and defends the thesis of the dominant role of individuals and groups and the thesis that market competition is beneficial. The struggle against the antiscientific ideas of “left” revisionism and right opportunism is a necessary condition for the successful utilization of economic interests in building socialism and communism.
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Marx, K. “Predislovie k pervomu izdaniiu.” In Kapital, vol. 1. Ibid., vol. 23.
Engels, F. “K zhilishchnomu voprosu.” Ibid., vol. 18.
Engels, F. “Liudvig Feierbakh i konets klassicheskoi nemetskoi filosofii.” Ibid., vol. 21.
Lenin, V. I. “Chto takoe ‘druz’ia naroda’ i kak oni voiuiut protiv sotsialdemokratov?” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 1.
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L. I. ABALKIN