Soviet and US Economy

Jim heartfield Jim at
Sat Jul 18 12:24:57 PDT 1998

Michael writes in reply to me
>There was dissatisfaction with the consumer goods relative to those of the U.S.
>the part of elites. A professor or a bureaucrat made much less than a
>person in the U.S. A farm worker much more.

and in reply to my point
>> The tragedy is
>> that it was not just propaganda: the Soviet economy really did fail to
>> meet the most basic needs of its people.

He adds
>I don't believe this for a minute, but perhaps James has a better understanding
>the inner workings of the minds of the people of that part of the world.

But this was hardly a question of subjective responses. Dissatisfaction was widespread, and led to the collapse of the elite there:

'In the Soviet context all internal and external observers agree on the steadily declining growth rates, a relatively low (and recently declining) expectation of life, a rise in alcoholism, and a relatively static or declining standard of living for many, particularly in relation to food.

On the question of the standard of living in the USSR, Leonid Gordon is quite explicit that the standard of living is below that expected by the population. However, unlike the situation in a Western depression, this goes along with greater production than ever. Gorbachev pointed this out in his 11 June 1985 speech that the USSR produces more steel than anyone else but that it is of such poor quality and goes to waste, that the USSR continues to build ever more factories rather than equipping old ones, that the factories take forever to build and that their completion is unpredictable. There are similar reports about cement. The USSR produces more cement than anyone else, but it has a shortage of cement and does not supply the housing needs of the population. The trebling investment in housing from 1960 to 1986 has only led to a decline in the actual number of houses constructed. Brezhnev complained in 1976 about the 700 million shoes produced and yet they had a shortage of shoes. Eight years later Chernenko got around to having a decree on shoes. That even the Politburo had to have a special discussion on shoes is iteself instructive. Now Aganbegyan is discussing the shoe problem also.

Too much produced, too little output for the consumer is the endemic problem of the USSR, although the USSR could not always boast teh first place in the world in machine tools, steel, cement, etc.. One Soviet writer described the economy as follows. "In life, unfortunately, there is something else: an economy torn by the sharpest contrdictions, with its horrifying waste, colossal inefficiency, and total lack of direction in relation to its development."'

Origins of the Crisis in the USSR, Ticktin pp130-1

>It is easy to trash the excesses of Stalinism. That approach minimizes the
>comparable crimes of the capitalist nations. I see no good in following that
>line of

I'm sorry but this strikes me as flawed reasoning. What lines of thought ought not be followed? When is the truth hostile to good ends? You cannot avoid a rational investigation because you do not like where it leads. That is to argue from consequences.

This surely is that same line of reasoning that forbade criticism of the USSR for fear of giving succour to capitalism. It was that kind of unwillingness to criticise the USSR that led the left to tie its fortunes to those of a dictatorial, exploitative and destructive order.

In no sense does honesty about the destructive nature of the soviet system help capitalism. On the contrary, the negative example of where socialism leads to in the USSR was the best advertisement for capitalism. Those on the left who try to minimise the horrors of the soviet system only build the prejudice that what the left is trying to build is another gulag, queue or purge. -- Jim heartfield

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