Enterprise, Soviet

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Soviet industrial enterprises (predpryatie ), occupying the lowest level of the economic bureaucracy, were responsible for producing the goods desired by planners, as specified in the techpromfinplan (technical-industrial financial plan) received by the enterprise each year. Owned by the state, headed by a director, and governed by the principle of one-person management (edinonachalie ), each Soviet enterprise was subordinate to an industrial ministry. For example, enterprises producing shoes and clothing were subordinate to the Ministry of Light Industry; enterprises producing bricks and mortar, to the Ministry of Construction Materials; enterprises producing tractors, to the Ministry of Tractor and Agricultural Machine Building. Enterprises producing military goods were subordinate to the Ministry of Defense Industry. In some cases, enterprises subordinate to the Ministry of Defense Industry also produced civilian goodsfor example, all products using electronic components were produced in military production enterprises. Many enterprises producing civilian goods and subordinate to a civilian industrial ministry had a special department, Department No. 1, responsible for military-related production (e.g., chemical producers making paint for military equipment or buildings, clothing producers making uniforms and other military wear, shoe producers making military footwear). While the enterprise was subordinate to the civilian industrial ministry, Department No. 1 reported to the appropriate purchasing department in the Ministry of Defense.

During the 1970s industrial enterprises were grouped into production associations (obedinenya ) to facilitate planning. The creation of industrial or production associations was intended to improve the economic coordination between planners and producers. By establishing horizontal or vertical mergers of enterprises working in related activities, planning officials could focus on long-term or aggregate planning tasks, leaving the management of the obedinenya to resolve problems related to routine operations of individual firms. In effect the obedinenya simply added a management layer to the economic bureaucracy because the industrial enterprise remained the basic unit of production in the Soviet economy.

Soviet industrial enterprises were involved in formulating and implementing the annual plan. During plan formulation, enterprises provided information about the material and technical supplies needed to fulfill a targeted level and assortment of production, and updated accounts of productive capacity. Because planning policy favored taut plans (i.e., plans with output targets high relative to input allocations and the firm's productivity capacity), output targets based on previous plan fulfillment (i.e., the "ratchet effect" or "planning from the achieved level"), and large monetary bonuses for managers if output targets were fulfilled, Soviet enterprise managers were motivated to establish a safety factor by over-ordering inputs and under-reporting productive capacity during the plan formulation process. Similarly, during plan implementation, they were motivated to sacrifice quality in order to meet quantity targets or to falsify plan fulfillment documents if quantity targets were not met. In some instances managers would petition for a correction in the plan targets that would reduce the output requirements for a particular plan period (month, quarter, or year). In such instances they apparently expected that their future plan targets would be revised upward. In the current period, if plan targets were lowered for one firm, planning officials redistributed the output to other firms in the form of higher output targets, so that the annual plan targets would be met for the industrial ministry.

Unlike enterprises in market economies, Soviet enterprises were not concerned with costs of production. The prices firms paid for materials and labor were fixed by central authorities, as were the prices they received for the goods they produced. Based on average cost rather than marginal cost of production, and not including capital charges, the centrally determined prices did not reflect scarcity, and were not adjusted to capture changes in supply or demand. Because prices were fixed, and cost considerations were less important than fulfilling quantity targets in the reward structure, Soviet enterprises were not concerned about profits. Profits and profitability norms were specified in the annual enterprise plan, but did not signal the same information about the successful operation and performance of the firm that they do in a market economy. Typically, failure to earn profits was an accounting outcome rather than a performance outcome, and resulted in the planning authorities providing subsidies to the firm.

The operation and performance of Soviet enterprises was monitored by planning authorities using the financial plan component of the annual techpromfinplan. The financial plan corresponded to the input and output plans, documenting the flow of materials and goods between firms, as well as wage payments, planned cost reductions, and the like. Financial accounts for the sending and receiving firms in any transaction were adjusted by the state bank (Gosbank) to match the flow of materials or goods. Furniture manufacturers, for example, were given output targets for each item in their assortment of productiontables, chairs, benches, cabinets, bookshelves. The plan further specified the input allocations associated with each item. Gosbank debited the accounts of the furniture manufacturer when the designated inputs were received and credited the accounts of the supplying firms. Planned transactions did not involve the exchange of cash between firms. Gosbank provided cash to the enterprise each month to pay wages; the maximum amount that an enterprise could withdraw from Gosbank was based on the planned number of employees and the centrally determined wages. Cash disbursements for wage payments were strictly controlled to preclude enterprise directors from acting independently from planners' preferences. Financial control was further exercised by planners in that Gosbank only provided short-term credit if specified in the annual enterprise plan. This system of financial supervision was called ruble control (kontrol rublem ).

See also: edinonachalie; gosbank; monetary system, soviet; ruble control; techpromfinplan


Berliner, Joseph S. (1957). Factory and Manager in the USSR. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Freris, Andrew. (1984). The Soviet Industrial Enterprise. New York: St. Martin's Press.

Granick, David. (1954). Management of the Industrial Firm in the USSR. New York: Columbia University Press.

Linz, Susan J., and Martin, Robert E. (1982). "Soviet Enterprise Behavior under Uncertainty." Journal of Comparative Economics 6:2436.

Susan J. Linz