A Day to Celebrate!

“Due to the situation which has evolved as a result of the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent states I hereby discontinue my activities at the post of president of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.”

Mikhail Gorbachev, December 25, 1991

Wow! The Latin Christmas celebration. The birthday of Sir Isaac Newton. And the dissolution of the Soviet Union all on the same day. That was yesterday. Today is the anniversary of the day when the Russian government took over the offices of the USSR. Let us hope that the USSR, in any form, never, ever comes back.

4 Responses to “A Day to Celebrate!”

  1. Hey, R2D2. Did you know that “USSR” stands for “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics”? The USSR wasn’t based on a market economy — it was based on socialism. Duh.

    (And it wasn’t all that peaceful, either. Just ask the Poles, the Chechens, the Estonians, the Russians, the Czechoslovaks…..)

  2. Samantha,
    It is not about what the USSR actually was. You’re right and these are the reasons why it did collapse. But Dr. Palmer’s expression “in any form” allows us to imagine a different USSR and that is what I tried to point out. The reform did not start after the collapse of the USSR, it was ongoing since Gorbachev came to power. Market economy was emerging gradually, while the USSR was still in its place. The Eastern Europe has got their velvet revolutions before the collapse of the USSR. So, was it really the USSR, which was an obstacle in terms of human development, progress etc., or it was exactly THE FORM of its economical and political development, which should have been changed and which was changing gradually in the second half of 80s?

  3. Tom G. Palmer

    So R2D2 would have opposed hoping that the Third Reich ” in any form, never, ever comes back”? The fact is that at the core of the Third Reich was national socialism, which was evil, just as the fact is that at the core fo the USSR was communism, which was also evil. I should also point out that R2D2’s revisionist approach to the history of economic policy in the USSR is a bit off. There was no gradual emergence of a market economy in the USSR. In a sense, it was always there, in the form of extremely clumsy and inefficient non-monetized barter and exchange mechanism among firms (who generally ignored the command-and-control system, because it could not be implemented; ouput quotas could not be met if inputs were not available and to obtain inputs, managers had to engage in complex forms of indirect exchange, trading vodka for lubricating oil for car parts for the ball bearings needed to produce tractors, for example) and in black-market exchanges (and sales through the back door) of consumer goods. But the reforms that were attempted under Gorbachev were generally attempts to further hamper and restrict those clumsy exchange mechanisms, not attempts to provide a legal foundation for them. (Examples include the law on unearned income, the attack on vodka production, which had awful consequences all round, both leading to increased alcohol poisoning and to a collapse of the state budget, which rested substantially on state income from vodka sales, thus leading to greater monetary inflation which, coupled with rigid offical prices on consumer goods, resulted in the famous “ruble overhang.”)

    The Shitalin “500 Day” plan was perhaps the most ambitious “plan” (which didn’t get very far) in the last days of the USSR, but it failed to address (partly because far too little intellectual or academic attention had been paid to the problem) the central issues of the “soft infrastructure” of a market economy, viz. the rules, the institutions (property, contract, courts, notary systems, etc., etc.), and the expectations of honest dealing on the part of ordinary people. The whole system collapsed, not because of the failure of an attempt at gradual change, but because it was an impossible task to reform the USSR. Alternatively put, any continuity between the USSR and what followed, to the extent that it embodied core elements of the free market, is overwhelmed by the essential nature of the change. That is to say, a “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics” was *essentially* a denial of free markets, civil society, and the rule of law.

    R2D2’s attempt to distinguish the USSR itself from “THE FORM of its economical and political development” is no different from an attempt to distinguish the National Socialist dictatorship of the Third Reich from “THE FORM of its economical and political development.” What’s the point?

    To the extent that anything might be resurrected that shares the “form” (that is, the essential characteristics) of the USSR it would be an attempt to resurrect an empire of evil. It would be a bad thing, indeed.