Did the USSR provide us with any lessons that aren't in the category of "don't try this at home"?

If one considers the history of the USSR it’s not a pretty picture. Looking at the various things that stand out from Soviet history we have:

  1. The gulag camps. These were used as effectively a massive Guantanamo bay for the union, and apparently were considered to have economic value which was enough to erode the fact that they were nightmares on earth. You could go to gulags for telling jokes about important people and other trivia, not just political crimes or sedition. Sadly the fact that the camps ended up stuffed with those with higher levels of education as thought crime and saying things against the state became more of a serious offence under Stalin had a tangible negative impact on what was already a shitty economic system for the Union. Which leads me to…

  2. A non-functional economy. You can beat me to death with Das Kapital and it won’t make it any more workable as an economic model in reality. The communist economy simply wasn’t able to respond to the needs of the people, let alone their wishes. Producers of goods were told to fulfil quotas and by god that’s what they did, no matter what the quality of those goods were of if anyone needed them. Furthermore the abilities and aptitudes of individuals to do jobs was considered irrelevant next to the ideologically mandated “fact” that everyone was equal, and if that means having a professor making barrels then that’s what we’ll do. It continues to mystify me how the entire foreign intelligence apparatus of the USA and western Europe weren’t able to reach this conclusion before the fall of the iron curtain. Which leads me to…

  3. No freedom of movement. Want to leave the Union because it sucks? Tough. It’s a sign of how confident the Nazis were in what they were achieving that they actively encouraged their citizens to travel around and point out how great Germany was now that the Jews weren’t ruining everything. You actually needed a passport to move within the Union, and if you wanted to go to cities near the edge of the country then that was even harder as you would be suspected (logically) of trying to flee. Leaving the country without authorisation was a crime punishable by imprisonment, that’s how confident the leadership was in people choosing to stay there if they had any say in the matter. Not that it might occur to you to go anywhere else though, because…

  4. No freedom of speech or practical freedom of information. Finding out anything other than what the government wanted you to know was pretty much impossible without running the risk of being branded an agitator. Yes, it made it pretty easy to keep the country in line, but then what kind of shitty country was it? As soon as the cracks showed in the 80s the whole thing fell apart like the house of cards it was when everyone not in Russia woke up to the fact that there was an alternative. Which they hadn’t done until then because…

  5. Political union by the sword. Once the Union was formed there wasn’t any way out. The other states were kept held tightly to mother Russia’s bossom not matter how much they disliked it. Again, it was the fall of the Berlin wall that triggered the Mexican wave of secessions. As soon as one country stepped forward and said “fuck this noise” the others did too, demonstrating what support there actually was for the Union. This is despite the fact that the Union was formed with the explicitly stated purpose of making life better for everyone who was part of it. Which was a joke because once you were in it…

  6. No freedom of religion - as an atheist surely the state-mandated lack of religion should have appealed to me? Well, no. In practice it simply meant a control of thought and belief, where religion and spirituality stop and a lot of other things begin is quite hazy, and a society that tries to forcibly make you think or not think something is, in my view, inferior to one that lets you choose for yourself. Moreover there are lots of societies now and in history that have successful religious pluralism, so ultimately it was just another case of the state shoving its mighty dick in its citizens’ faces. But of course even if you couldn’t believe what you wanted, at least you enough food to keep you going to not worry about trivial matters like religion, right?

  7. Wrong. Again, ideology came before practicality with disastrous results if you were a common schmoe (who, of course, this was all being done for the benefit of :rolleyes:). To add insult to injury the Union also pursued an agricultural policy of natural selection that didn’t work and cost even more lives through poor output.

So, with these in mind (I’m sure I’ve missed others), do we have anything that we can take from the USSR’s history and say “you know what? They were on to something there!”. From where I’m sitting it reads pretty much like a long treatise of “spectacular failures orchestrated from blindly following ideology”.

They kicked Hitler’s ass.
The Soyuz is still flying.
They deported Yakov Smirnoff.

Other than that … I got nothin’.

So, some years back, worked at a foundation. A foundation with considerable restrictions, but, of course, we still got people asking for money we could not give them. Reading those letters was part of my job.

Anyway, got a letter from a Russian scientist, seemed like it was printed on toilet paper with a Bulgarian word processor. The gist of it was that he was studying the pollution of the Volga River (sometimes known as the Crimea River…) by heavy metals, largely a result of the hell-bent industrialization policy of the Stalin years. He was having problems measuring the cadmium levels in the water, because they went off the scale for his equipment, only went up to one hundred times the EPA (US) allowance. He was hoping that we could help him buy equipment that went to a thousand times that level, but wasn’t sure that would be enough.

How’s that?

I was just talking with someone about Lysenkoism the other day. To me, that’s one of the most startling failures of the Soviet Union. Gulags are sort of understandable if you’re an authoritarian regime - but Lysenkoism was denying physical reality. It was like saying, “Gravity doesn’t fit in with the Soviet philosophy, so from now on we give it no standing in science. We will proceed from this point with the understanding that things don’t fall down.”

They fought heroically and at great cost during WWII. There is nothing wrong with that legacy as one of the positives. They also had some very significant achievements in space exploration, despite the handicap of inferior technology.

There aren’t a lot of positives, but the ones that they have are pretty magnificent. They don’t make up for the negatives, but it’s not a one sided picture.


Trotskyist splitter!

Yeah, I was going to add, “they can get to orbit”, but that darned Hamster King nijaed me.

Is that an iceaxe in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me…? :wink:


Your argument is that the USSR’s worst failure was to teach evolution? I’m not disagreeing, mine you, just making sure I understand. (Actually, in the face of a determined argument, I’d have troubles making a counter argument. This belief killed countless people. Thankfully, we’ll all learned)

Not perzackly. Lysenko believed that alterations of a living being could be inherited. Utter drivel, of course, but Stalin saw it as strengthening the case for communism, in that human beings would evolve more quickly into socialist beings than would be possible by way of direct evolution. Which, of course, would take thousands of years.

Which Russia could not have done, if it had had a free-market system between the wars.

Yes, I am aware of the definition of Lysenkoism (if, admittedly, not the spelling). However, it still falls into the idea of “not teaching evolution”.

The distinction you make is an interesting one, though. Thank you. I will stop now for fear of hijacking this conversation.

Ummm… are you equating Lysenkoism with the theory of evolution?

Edit: Just saw your response to Elucidator. But I think there may be a misunderstanding - your original response said, “Your argument is that the USSR’s worst failure was to teach evolution?” Did you mean NOT teach evolution?

You bring up an interesting point, nothing to be bashful about. An interesting parallel is the Nazi’s rejection of “Jewish physics” and, of course, Jewish physicists.

Oh, sorry. Yes, I left out a NOT.

Stalin probably killed more communists than Hitler.

So, there’s that.

If we take the obvious step of generalizing this to “don’t believe things that are convenient but untrue, regardless of how much the truth or falseness of the things validates your ideology, even if you really, really want to believe those things” it ceases to be a discussion of the failings of the USSR, doesn’t it? Other, more pressing parallels become distressingly obvious.

Yes, “Jewish physics” is a parallel. Gay cryptography is an interesting contrast. Neither are particularly on topic. Perhaps further interesting parallels will present themselves to the alert reader if I bow out now.

(my apologies again to Mach Truck; I meant to say “was to fail to teach evolution”)

Sounds like today’s GOP.

Yeah. It does.

Do they still use handkerchief-codes, or what?