December 8, 2011

“Pure socialism” in the Soviet Union

Filed under: Economics, History — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:53

Nicholas Snow summarizes the only serious attempt to implement “pure socialism” in the first years after the Russian revolution:

The closest the Soviet Union came to actual pure socialism was the period known as War Communism, 1918 to 1921. This period is unanimously seen as a disaster, even among socialists. Production fell in most if not all industries, and millions starved to death. From then on the Communist Party struggled to keep hold of both their Marxist ideology and their power. Naturally the latter took precedence, and as a result the price system, which they originally wanted to abolish, took on a larger and larger role. [. . .]

The Soviets certainly liked to keep up appearances. At a glance the Soviet economy looked centrally planned. The planning board for each industry set output levels, and the State owned de jure all means of production. A closer look, however, revealed a different story. As Boettke and Anderson pointed out, the Soviet economy was closer to that of a mercantilist economy, a heavily regulated market economy effectively run by rent-seeking government officials and factory managers. De facto, the factory managers were the owners and residual claimants. They paid the State for the right to run the factory, and in return the State created a monopoly for them, just as in the mercantilist system of old.

Middlemen, known as the Tolkachi, worked on behalf of the State enterprises to sell surplus commodities on the one hand and purchase needed products on the other. They essentially created a market that allowed for economic calculation not possible under a pure socialist system.

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