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In his posting (below) Jim Farmelent mentioned Leonid Kantorovich (
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonid_Kantorovich) as well as Paul Cockshott

Here is Cockshott's article on Kantorovich, 'Calculation in Natura' (
in which he begins with Otto Neurath’s (
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otto_Neurath) proposition that economic
calculation can be done and the efficient usage of resources accomplished
without reference to a scalar "whether this be money, labour hours or
kilowatt hours" (p12). Neurath supported his contention with reference to
lessons that could be learned from

"The war (WWI) economy had...been largely an in-kind economy. As a result
of the war the in-kind calculus was applied more often and more
systematically than before... It was all to apparent that war was fought
with ammunition and the supply of food, not with money." (pp9-10).

But, Cockshott writes, Neurath "arguably did not provide a practical means
of doing this..." (p9). However Kantorovich did. Prior to examining that
work Cockshott gives a tip of the hat to the contributions of John von
Neumann (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_von_Neumann), eminent
mathematician and quantum theorist whose work "unified the matrix mechanics
of Heisenberg with the wave mechanics of Schrodinger" (15). Cockshott
details that "His work on quantum mechanics coincided with the first draft
of his economic growth model given as a lecture in Princeton in 1932. In
both fields he employs vector spaces and matrix operators over vector
spaces, complex vector spaces in the quantum-mechanical case, and real
vector spaces in the growth model."

While the language of the math-science is at or above my level of
comprehension, a conclusion that he applied abstract mathematical modeling
to the real problems of economic efficiency is plain (
Cockshott cites others in proposing that von Neuman's insights were
precursed by Robert Remak (
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Remak_%28mathematician%29) who showed
"for the first time how, starting from an in-natura description of the
conditions of production, one can derive an equilibrium system of prices"
(15). It is then asserted that von Neumann improved on this thinking by
allowing "for there to be multiple techniques to produce any given
good-Remak only allowed one" (16).

However, "In the early 30s, no algorithmic techniques were known which
would solve the more general problem where there can be joint production
and multiple possible techniques to produce individual products" (17) when
"Kantorovich came up with a method which later came to be known as linear
programming or linear optimisation (19). Kantorovich wrote:

"I discovered that a whole range of problems of the most diverse character
relating to the scientific organization of production (questions of the
optimum distribution of the work of machines and mechanisms, the
minimization of scrap, the best utilization of raw materials and local
materials, fuel, transportation, and so on) lead to the formulation of a
single group of mathematical problems (extrernal problems). These problems
are not directly comparable to problems considered in mathematical
analysis. It is more correct to say that they are formally similar, and
even turn out to be formally very simple, but the process of solving them
with which one is faced [i.e., by mathematical analysis] is practically
completely unusable, since it requires the solution of tens of thousands or
even millions of systems of equations for completion. I have succeeded in
finding a comparatively simple general method of solving this group of
problems which is applicable to all the problems I have mentioned, and is
sufficiently simple and effective for their solution to be made completely
achievable under practical conditions" (19).

Cockshott sums this up as "What was significant about Kantorovich’s work
was that he showed that it was possible, starting out from a description in
purely physical terms of the various production techniques available, to
use a determinate mathematical procedure to determine which combination of
techniques will best meet plan targets" (19)." Cockshott goes on to
describe Kantorovich's method and math in an altogether fascinating
demonstration in which different machines with different capabilities even
making different products and even different quantities of those different
products can be chosen from the myriad of possibilities so as to achieve
maximal results from minimal inputs.

The point of all this (and the point of Cockshott's paper, I believe) is
that with the collapsing of capitalism--happening now before our eyes and,
unfortunately, not being assisted or hastened in its destruction to any
meaningful extent by any great proletarian upsurge--can and must be
assisted by the development of a socialist economic program that would
detail how and with what and in what manners and ways can the existing
economic substructure be adapted to the production of the necessary (and
then even the desirable) human means of consumption and of those means of
production necessary to facilitate this. This--again to my way of
thinking--is in league with Marx' expositions of the nature, operation and
laws of the fundamentals and the flaws of the capitalist system; only that
Cockshott's exposition is prescriptive while Capital, et al are, as
valuable as they are, remain merely descriptive; for they both are intended
to be armaments fashioned to aid and be utilized by the working class in
its historical mission to eliminate class. The one points to the sources of
the problems; the other to their solutions.  Cockshott's ideas on such a
transitional socialist economy and its workings are fleshed out fully in
his (and Allin F Cottrel's "Towards a New Socialism".  (

We must discuss and develop and introduce into the popular social discourse
the ways and means, the methods and manner, the program by which a
socialist commonwealth--with the ultimate goal of global communism--can not
only function but itself be amenable and adaptable to change with the
ever-changing needs and desires of its constituents, the human race.


Message: 3

Date: Sun, 25 Jun 2017 03:42:56 GMT
From: "Jim Farmelant" <farmela...@juno.com>
To: marxism-tha...@lists.riseup.net, marxism@lists.csbs.utah.edu
Subject: [Marxism] Mathematical economics and political economy in the
        Soviet Union
Message-ID: <20170624.234256.321...@webmail05.vgs.untd.com>
Content-Type: text/plain; charset=windows-1252

In the Soviet Union, the economics profession was divided into two
branches: the political economists and the mathematical economists, with
the great majority of Soviet economists being political economists. The
political economists were trained mostly in the work of Marx & Engels,
Lenin, and their successors. Most of them did not have much mathematical
training and their published research made little use of mathematics. The
mathematical economists on the other hand were trained very proficiently in
higher mathematics and their work was very technical in nature. The
mathematician and economist Leonid Kantarovich was one of the founding
fathers of the Soviet school of mathematical economists and he would win
both the Order of Lenin Medal and later the Nobel Prize in economics for
his work as one of the founders of linear programming. One of their
concerns was to try to make Soviet economic planning more rational and to
that end they introduced a variety of optimization techniques which
implicitly or explicitly relied upon marginalist economic ideas. So that
way, a lot of neoclassical-type economic thinking was brought into the
Soviet Union.

Oskar Lange in a 1945 piece, Marxian Economics in the Soviet Union, which
appeared in the American Economic Review, took note of the Soviet debates
that were going on then over the law of value and whether this law is
operative under socialism. Lange was of the opinion that this law is
operative under socialism and on that basis he argued for the adoption of
marginalist economic analysis as a tool for making socialist economic
planning more rational. A few years later, Stalin came around to a somewhat
similar position in his pamphlet, Economic Problems of the USSR. People
like Lange would then cite Stalin's work as a basis for their own advocacy
of economic reforms in the socialist bloc countries.

One of my FB friends, Barkley Rosser, has said of his Russian-born wife,
Marina Rosser, who was trained as an economist in the Soviet Union:

"There was a split between "political economy" and the more mathematical
"cybernetics." She went through both, meaning she knows her Marx more than
you or Doug Henwood or even Paul Cockshott do by a country mile, She can
cite chapter and verse all the way down to the most minute detail any of
you can come up with,, and in her heyday before the KGB arrested and
tortured her she had access to the Marx-Engels library, which still exists,
which was only accessible to very high level people like her who also did
major translations of foreign authors, She learned western econ through
courses on "Bourgeous theories of economics," some of these taught by
westerners such as the late Lynn Turgeon who was the person who was
responsible for us meeting, who gave me her phone number when I went in
1984 to Moscow and met her. He gave her away in our wedding, and I remain
grateful to him, and we wrote a published paper with others about his work
later. She had the best English of any of his students at MGU, and
translated his lectures into English, which were later published as a book.
After she got out she worked at the Institiitute for International
Economics and Relations (IMEMOE, I might have its precise title wrong,
although it still exists) which in the old days advised the Central
Committee of the CPSU, and she was involved with its 25 year planning
activity when I arrived in 1984 to disrupt her Soviet economic career, BTW,
one of her students after she started working at IMEMO was the current
Chair of the Russian Central Bank, and, well, enough for now..."

Jim Farmelant
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