I’ll address the issue of private property first, and would venture to say that no socialist country ever, to any extent, did away with private property. Keep in mind that, in the Marxist framework, private property is not private because it is individually-owned, but because it entails the separation of labor from the means of production. In the absence of conscious control of the means of production by the workers, it cannot be said that private property has been done away with (and thus the institutionalization of the rule of a party that ostensibly rules for the proletariat and embodies its interests does not nullify private property).
Since the question is concerned with the actual practice of the socialist countries, let’s take the USSR as an historical example to look at. Even if we conceded the idea that a state run “for” but not by the working class resulted in the abolition of private property, Lenin was pretty adamant about the fact that such a precondition did not exist in the USSR.
In December of 1922, Lenin spoke of the Soviet state as the “apparatus which…we took over from tsarism and slightly anointed with Soviet oil”.
In March of 1923 Lenin stated the following,
“The most harmful thing would be to rely on the assumption that we know at least something, or that we have any considerable number of elements necessary for the building of a really new state apparatus, one really worthy to be called socialist, Soviet, etc.”
Those are some pretty scathing critiques by Lenin, which are unfortunately often overlooked by many who wish to paint a perfectly rosy picture of the USSR. The ML argument in defense of the USSR hinges on the idea that the Soviet state was one of the dictatorship of the proletariat, which equated to (indirect) political rule by the proletariat, and thus property under the control of the state could not rightly be considered “private.” I find it very hard to believe however, that a state which, by Lenin’s own admission, was effectively the same one that was apparently overthrown, can simultaneously be a state of the dictatorship of the proletariat. A lot of anti-revisionist critiques of the USSR involve the idea that something analogous to the Cultural Revolution was desperately needed in the immediate post-War period, but let’s be real, something like that would have been needed decades earlier.
Now, as for the issue of the exchange of labor power, I think this too was a reality for the entirety of the USSR’s history. I’ve remarked a few times that competition for labor power existed and was evidenced by the proliferation of piece-rate wages in the USSR in the 30s. But I get asked a lot though, if labor power was a commodity (under either Stalin, or Brezhnev, or both), then why was there no unemployment? Raya Dunayevskaya wrote a number of papers on the USSR and concluded that “the unemployed army hides out in the countryside,” but was disguised by official Soviet pronouncements that declared unemployment non-existent. Paresh Chattopadhyay also concludes that unemployment existed but was hidden,
“Anessential argument to prove the post-capitalist character of the Soviet economy
is that, unlike capitalism, this economy provided job rights and full
employment to the laborers. Let us,
first, take the Soviet definition of full-employment (as summarized by an
American sovietologist) It is a situation where there is a job for everybody
who wants it, where labor is allocated rationally across the economy, and where
it is efficiently utilized at the work place (Bornstein 1978: 5). It should be clear that the Soviet economy
did not fulfill these conditions. First
of all, even job rights could not prevent the admitted existence of unemployment
at a non-negligible level in the Soviet Union’s eastern republics. For example, at the end of the 1970s, it was
estimated that between a quarter and a fifth of the working age population was
unemployed in Azerbaizhan and Armenia, and that in Tadzhikistan the percentage
of working people without a job was two and a half times the national
average. For the economy as a whole
there was no full employment; there was, particularly beginning with the 1970s,
labor shortage accompanied by an unutilized or hoarded labor at the level of
the production unit (Manevich, 1985a: 59-60).
If full employment of labor would signify at least a balance of the
demand for labor with the existing labor resources, that balance was never
attained in the USSR, where the failure to reach full employment was seen in
the “opposite feature [protivopolozhnaya cherta] – a systematic
shortage of labor power” (Manevich, 1985b: 21; italics added). On the
other hand, this overall macroeconomic over-full employment went hand in hand
with inefficient utilization of labor power in the economy. Within the production units, fulfilling the
plan at any cost, coupled with low labor productivity, resulted in surplus or
hoarded labor, a kind of disguised unemployment where laborers’ earnings would
really amount to unemployment benefits.
It is indeed odd job security and full
employment of the hired wage laborers
should qualify as non-capitalist, if not socialist, by Marxists (For Marx
post-capitalist labor cannot be hired (wage) labor, it can only be associated
labor). This would imply that in wartime
capitalism, with (over) full employment of wage labor, there is an interruption
in the process of extraction of surplus value, and that, to that extent,
capital ceases to exist (at least for the war period). And not only in wartime
capitalism. In peacetime (national)
“socialist” Germany, based on juridical private ownership in the
means of production, there was over-full employment of labor beginning with
1937-1938, and labor being “a scarce commodity” (as in the USSR),
“competition for workers led to firms making wage offers which ran counter
to the basic Nazi economic policy” (Grunberger 1983: 245).” (Chattopadhyay, Paresh. “The “Non-Capitalist” Position And The Soviet Reality.” In The Marxian Concept of Capital and the Soviet Experience: Essay in the Critique of Political Economy. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1994.)
My understanding of the other socialist countries is that they all either followed to a tee the economic layout of the USSR (much of the Eastern Bloc, Cuba, etc.) or did not even possess a requisite degree of economic centralization to rationally be considered “socialist” by shoddy ML standards (Yugoslavia, Ethiopia, etc.), so I must conclude that the socialist countries did not do away with unemployment or private property.