How Communism Survived Thanks to Capitalist Technology

Philip Vander Elst – June 27, 2018

Despite the central role played by State controlled central banks and financial institutions in bringing about the conditions which led to the global credit crunch of 2008, free markets and ‘capitalism’, rather than government failure, have taken all the blame for that complex crisis, and Marxism and other varieties of socialism are once again attracting the enthusiastic support of many young people in our universities and colleges.

Unfortunately, however well intentioned, this renewed interest in hard-core socialism, and the belief that it offers relevant solutions to our existing problems, ignores the lessons taught by the many failed socialist experiments of the 20th century, some of which are described by two American economists: Kevin D. Williamson, in his recent paperback, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism, and Thomas J. DiLorenzo, in his equally informative and well documented new study, The Problem with Socialism.

What, in this context, but on a narrower front, I wish to do in this article, is to draw the attention of open-minded left-wing readers to the significant but little known and highly relevant fact that for decades, Western capitalist technology sustained the failed economic experiment of Soviet Communism, rescuing it from the full consequences of its inherent systemic weaknesses, until its final collapse in 1991. 

This failure of the Marxist model in post-1917 revolutionary Russia, and its subsequent parasitical dependence on Western capitalism, was set out in detail in my paper, Capitalist Technology for Soviet Survival, published in 1981 by the Institute of Economic Affairs. All I have room for here, a generation later, is to provide a brief summary of some of the relevant arguments and evidence presented in that paper. That this should be necessary nearly 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, was recently underlined by the views expressed by Fiona Lali, president of the Marxist Society at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), during a recent interview on Radio 4’s Today programme.

Asked about the failure of Soviet Communism, following her previous comment that capitalism had outlived its usefulness, “she claimed that it had ‘never had the chance to develop’ because of interference from the West.”  Not surprisingly, British historian Dominic Sandbrook, from whose article in the Daily Mail (22/1/2018) this quote is taken, commented: “My real thoughts about Ms Lali’s version of history are not fit for publication,” and one can easily understand his incredulity.

To begin with, the widespread belief on the Left that Soviet Communism took over an oppressive society and a backward rural economy that it subsequently and heroically transformed into an advanced and powerful industrial state, improving workers’ rights and the living standards of the mass of the population in the process, is the very opposite of the truth.

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