Red Plenty!

by Henry on March 3, 2012

Red Plenty, which I’ve written about several times, is now available (Powells, Amazon) in a US paperback edition. It’s a fabulous book which should apply to a wide variety of CT readers – a mosaic novel that simultaneously speaks intelligently to the Soviet calculation debate, and has engaging characters. It’s beautifully written to boot – this bit, which I’ve quoted before, will give you some sense of how its more cerebral passages flow.

But Marx had drawn a nightmare picture of what happened to human life under capitalism, when everything was produced only in order to be exchanged; when true qualities and uses dropped away, and the human power of making and doing itself became only an object to be traded. Then the makers and the things made turned alike into commodities, and the motion of society turned into a kind of zombie dance, a grim cavorting whirl in which objects and people blurred together till the objects were half alive and the people were half dead. Stock-market prices acted back upon the world as if they were independent powers, requiring factories to be opened or closed, real human beings to work or rest, hurry or dawdle; and they, having given the transfusion that made the stock prices come alive, felt their flesh go cold and impersonal on them, mere mechanisms for chunking out the man-hours. Living money and dying humans, metal as tender as skin and skin as hard as metal, taking hands, and dancing round, and round, and round, with no way ever of stopping; the quickened and the deadened, whirling on. That was Marx’s description, anyway. And what would be the alternative? The consciously arranged alternative? A dance of another nature, Emil presumed. A dance to the music of use, where every step fulfilled some real need, did some tangible good, and no matter how fast the dancers spun, they moved easily, because they moved to a human measure, intelligible to all, chosen by all.

Finally, we’re going to do a Crooked Timber seminar on it in a few months. This should give plenty of opportunity to those of you who want to join the discussion to get your hands on a copy and read it.

{ 43 comments }

1

david 03.03.12 at 4:14 am

A vision of Marx more as an objection to invisible hands than to classical theories of value.

This has a unity with the neo-Austrians in observing the difference between consciously and non-consciously coordinated economic activity, which the neoclassicals tend to ignore – although of course the neo-Austrians see the reduction of things to exchange as a good thing, rendering legibility upon a complex universe.

2

Sarang 03.03.12 at 5:42 am

I am delighted to hear this. The book is terrific, though (to judge by what I have read) it is much better on the early parts of the dream — the parts that really map onto the fairytale w/ minimal stress — than it is on the others. I will never see Khrushchev the same way again (though perhaps I didn’t, really, after the Taubman book), but Spufford doesn’t offer the same kind of empathy to the soldiers and others.

3

b.mit 03.03.12 at 6:13 am

I learned of this book through Crooked Timber, and I really enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to the seminar.

4

Andreas Moser 03.03.12 at 7:31 am

5

Neville Morley 03.03.12 at 9:51 am

Excellent; I’ve been meaning to get it for ages, so this is a useful excuse…

6

Daragh McDowell 03.03.12 at 10:47 am

I’m a Russianist, and spent most of my post-grad years studying the Soviet Union and its aftermath, and can attest that this book is truly awesome, both a wonderfully written story and a fantastic look at how the Soviet state worked. Henry if there’s anything I can contribute beyond comments to the seminar.

7

Louis Proyect 03.03.12 at 1:50 pm

I doubt that the analysis, such as it is, in this work of fiction (?) is worth bothering with but I had an extra incentive not to read it after noticing this phrase in the excerpt on Spufford’s website: “Without thinking about it, Leonid Vitalievich lent his increment of shove to the jostling crowd…” Lent his increment of shove???!!! I could not write something so gracelessly “literary” if my life depended on it.

8

Henry Farrell 03.03.12 at 3:22 pm

Well, on the question of whether you could write something like this if your life depended on it, we are in _entire agreement._ I remember, back in the old Spoon Collective days, someone describing your frequent and voluminous contributions as ‘Proyectile vomit.’ I thought it was right on the mark then, and haven’t seen any evidence to the contrary since.

9

Ben 03.03.12 at 5:02 pm

Dance moves chosen by all, as opposed to by each. Hmmm, sounds like something I would hate. Can I sit it out or is that not allowed?

10

Louis Proyect 03.03.12 at 6:04 pm

Farrell, you are entitled to deem “lent his increment of shove” as good writing. Frankly, I am not surprised to see you lining up this way all in all. As far as the Spoons listserv is concerned, that’s 16 years ago. How peculiar to dwell on something so far in the past, especially since I am not the person I was back then. If you get around at some point to focusing on the issues at hand (how to write a novel, how to evaluate the “Soviet experiment”), please get back to me.

Finally, if you Crooked Timber people would prefer not to see my posts, you can put me into a killfile. I post here maybe once or twice a year, and only if it relates to Marxism. If that’s too much for you to handle, be my guest. I think that liberals are just as repressive as Stalinists in their own way.

11

Chris Williams 03.03.12 at 6:12 pm

I persuaded Spufford to come along to my university last year and discuss the format of Red Plenty with a room full of historians and creative writing scholars. The event proved that as well as being able to write a book like that, he’s also able to articulate brilliantly the process of writing it and the choices he made about format and genre. He’s far better at discussing his own work than almost anyone else I’ve encountered, which makes sense given that his job is in creative writing. So – if I were you I would also ‘invite’ him to contribute here.

12

JakeB 03.03.12 at 7:19 pm

I enjoyed the book a lot, especially as I had read previously read Taubman’s biography, as Sarang did. I would have thought Khruschchev’s portrayal in _Red Plenty_ was one of the more skazkified elements if I hadn’t read the biography.

I also was particularly pleased by the elegance of Spufford’s description of linear programming. I was actually studying LP last fall at the same time I was reading _Red Plenty_, and it gave me a lot of satisfaction to have them to contrast.

My only dissatisfaction with the book is the way most of the characters walk on and walk off. Several stories not filled in enough. On the other hand, the footnotes are a delight.

13

Louis Proyect 03.03.12 at 10:08 pm

I doubt if I will read this book, but I really wonder how much can be gleaned from an interpretation based on the attempt to use cybernetics to advance central planning in the USSR. Unfortunately, there was no planning in the USSR in the sense that Lenin projected back in the early 20s. There was in fact an absence of a plan in the real sense as Moshe Lewin pointed out in “Russia-USSR-Russia”. Moshe Lewin’s indispensable
“Russia-USSR-Russia”.

Lewin recounts that the Soviet government announced the first five year plan in 1928. Stalin loyalists, like Krzhizanovksy and Strumlin, who headed Gosplan, the minister of planning, worried about the excess rigidity of this plan. They noted that the success of the plan was based on 4 factors:

1) five good consecutive crops,

2) more external trade and help than in 1928,

3) a “sharp improvement” in overall economic indicators, and

4) a smaller ration than before of military expenditures in the state’s total expenditures.

How could anybody predict five consecutive good crops in the USSR? The plan assumed the most optimistic conditions and nobody had a contingency plan to allow for failure of any of the necessary conditions.

Bazarov, another Stalin loyalist in Gosplan, pointed to another area of risk: the lack of political cadres. He warned the Gosplan presidium in 1929, “If you plan simultaneously a series of undertakings on such a gigantic scale without knowing in advance the organizational forms, without having cadres and without knowing what they should be taught, then you get a chaos guaranteed in advance; difficulties will arise which will not only slow down the execution of the five-year plan, which will take seven if not ten years to achieve, but results even worse may occur; here such a blatantly squandering of means could happen which would discredit the whole idea of industrialization.”

Strumlin admitted that the planners preferred to “stand for higher tempos rather than sit in prison for lower ones.” Strumlin and Krzhizanovksy had been expressing doubts about the plan for some time and Stalin removed these acolytes from Gosplan in 1930.

In order for the planners, who were operating under terrible political pressure, to make sense of the plan, they had to play all kinds of games. They had to falsify productivity and yield goals in order to allow the input and output portions of the plan to balance. V.V. Kuibyshev, another high-level planner and one of Stalin’s proteges, confessed in a letter to his wife how he had finessed the industrial plan he had developing. “Here is what worried me yesterday and today; I am unable to tie up the balance, and as I cannot go for contracting the capital outlays–contracting the tempo–there will be no other way but to take upon myself an almost unmanageable task in the realm of lowering costs.”

Eventually Kuibyshev swallowed any doubts he may have had and began cooking the books in such a way as to make the five-year plan, risky as it was, totally unrealizable.

Real life proved how senseless the plan was. Kuibyshev had recklessly predicted that costs would go down, meanwhile they went up: although the plan allocated 22 billion rubles for industry, transportation and building, the Soviets spent 41.6 billion. The money in circulation, which planners limited to a growth of only 1.25 billion rubles, consequently grew to 5.7 billion in 1933.

Now we get to the real problem for those who speak about “planning” during this period. As madcap and as utopian as the original plan was, Stalin tossed it into the garbage can immediately after the planners submitted it to him. He commanded new goals in 1929-30 that disregarded any economic criteria. For example, instead of a goal of producing 10 million tons of pig iron in 1933, the Soviets now targeted 17 million. All this scientific “planning” was taking place when a bloody war against the Kulaks was turning the Russian countryside into chaos. Molotov declared that to talk about a 5-year plan during this period was “nonsense.”

Stalin told Gosplan to forget about coming up with a new plan that made sense. The main driving force now was speed. The slogan “tempos decide everything” became policy. The overwhelming majority of Gosplan, hand-picked by Stalin, viewed the new policy with shock. Molotov said this was too bad, and cleaned house in the old Gosplan with “all of its old-fashioned planners” as he delicately put it.

When Stalin turned the whole nation into a work camp in order to meet these unrealistic goals, he expanded the police force in order that they may function as work gang bosses. Scientific planning declined and command mechanisms took their place. As the command mechanisms grew, so grew the administrative apparatus to implement them. The more bottlenecks that showed up, the greater the need for bureaucrats to step in and pull levers. This is the explanation of the monstrous bureaucratic apparatus in the former Soviet Union, not scientific planning.

14

Louis Proyect 03.03.12 at 10:14 pm

I would also point out that I was president of the board of Tecnica, an organization that sent hundreds of programmers to Nicaragua in the 1980s to help a revolutionary society make use of cybernetics. Even in its poverty, Nicaragua had more to do with the genuine spirit of socialism than the USSR from the 1930s to its collapse. It is a little hard for me to figure out where Spufford is going with this book based on the excerpt above and what I have seen on his website. It turns out that two people on the left I have known for many years are enthusiastic about it, even though their own idiosyncrasies may have something to do with that. One of them is Ken McLeod, a kind of left-libertarian more than anything else. The other is Paul Cockshott, an unabashed admirer of Stalin.

15

tomslee 03.03.12 at 10:34 pm

LP: Wouldn’t it be disappointing, not to say boring, to know “where [the author] is going” with every book you read, before you read it? Selection has to be made somehow, I know, but sometimes you’ve just got to pick up the thing and read it.

16

ogmb 03.03.12 at 10:59 pm

It should also be noted that the British paperback edition, which came out last summer, reverted the Я in ЯED back to a regular R, presumably as a result of the protests raised on this very blog.

17

Louis Proyect 03.03.12 at 11:37 pm

LP: Wouldn’t it be disappointing, not to say boring, to know “where [the author] is going” with every book you read, before you read it?

At the age of 67, with cataracts in both eyes, and a left eye that is pretty useless because of a macular pucker, I have to be a bit more selective. That being said, I probably will get around to Red Plenty.

18

Chris Williams 03.04.12 at 12:37 am

I’d love a proper trot to read it and consider the position it takes with regard to the various anti-stalinist views – degenerate workers’ state/ bureaucratic collectivist/ state capitalist/ ‘Critique’ – of the political economy of the USSR.

19

Louis Proyect 03.04.12 at 12:49 am

I don’t know if a “proper trot” is a reference to me but I question whether “plenty” has much to do with 21st century socialism. I noticed that the Furedi cult embraced the book because it resonates with their own peculiar libertarian notion that the sky is the limit–one of their regulars blogs as “Ferraris for Everybody”.

The real goal is survival of the human race, not whether there will be Rolexes for everybody. The ecological crisis dwarfs considerations that seem important to Spufford. The USSR was based on a notion that the race with the West could be won. It utilized the boneheaded modes of production that are wreaking havoc on the USA, especially large-scale hydroelectric dams.

The preoccupation with markets, efficiency, etc. has very much of a 20th century ring. We should be thinking more in terms of whether we will have water to drink and food to eat rather than how “rich” we can become. Anyhow, I’ll have more to say about this after reading the book.

20

Daragh McDowell 03.04.12 at 2:07 am

Wow LP – you’ve gone from posting ‘once or twice a year’ to cluttering the thread with utterly anodyne and tedious posts, and huffily pronouncing that the book wasn’t worth reading (presumably because you were just a bit too literal-minded to get that ‘increment of shove’ was a clever bit of wordplay, or to use the technical term ‘literature’) to ‘doubting you will bother’ to preparing us all in advance for more Proyectile Vomit after you’ve read it, all in the space of a few hours after being cajoled and prodded into reading the book and sharing your thoughts by precisely no-one.

And FWIW – it continues to amaze me the utterly shameless double-think old-school hardline Marxists are prepared to engage in to preserve their precious ideological purity. To whit – you spent several achingly boring paragraphs droning on about the transparent ridiculousness of attempting to centrally plan a national economy due to the capriciousness of leaders, inability to predict the future and the impossibility of the state collecting and process the massive amounts of data required to do so, not to mention problems in ensuring its accuracy. Yet even though this rips the heart right out of your entire political-economic belief system you remain totally unchanged. Now THAT’S Marxism as I’ve always experienced it – a fashion accessory for poseurs more concerned with demonstrating how deeply they care about the plight of the working man, while being utterly disinterested in doing anything that might help them.

21

JamesH 03.04.12 at 2:08 am

Having actually read the book, I would say that the grinding down of the hopes of the mathematical planners by stalin et al’s heirs is a big part of it; also that since the book takes place entirely during and after the Khruschchev era, and since “the increment of shove” bit is at a point where the narrator, a statistician, is musing about the vector addition of millions of tiny inputs (or increments) to the economy and it’s therefore a totally appropriate metaphor, that Louis is talking out of his monstrous bureaucratic apparatus.

22

Chris Williams 03.04.12 at 11:43 am

Over the years I’ve had a number of minor differences with Proyect, but the above exchange reminds me that one Louis Proyect is worth about six Daragh McDowells. What did Marx have to say about Gosplan, again?

23

Ken MacLeod 03.04.12 at 12:15 pm

At the risk of putting Louis off the book even more, here is a brief account of Francis Spufford and Paul Cockshott discussing the book at an event I initiated and chaired. As Paul Cockshott is just about the ideal reader and discussant of the book, I feel quite pleased about that. But seriously, I think that if Louis read the book he would find it a lot more interesting and indeed a lot closer to his concerns than he seems to expect.

24

J. Otto Pohl 03.04.12 at 1:10 pm

I have not read the novel in question. But, the thread seems to developing an offshoot discussion on the history of the USSR. On that point it should be noted that the USSR was probably as successful as any centrally planned and controlled economy could possibly be. It did manage to make huge economic and social advances in some of the most undeveloped regions of the world. Under the Stalin regime this took place at great human cost. A cost that was not divided equally. In this sense it is a compressed, accelerated, and more brutal variant of western industrialization using the state rather than private capital as the primary mover of resources from the countryside to the cities. Lewin as cited by Proyect is right in many aspects. Although I would emphasize that this process also focused around a specifically urban Russian model and became just as repressive and exclusionary towards certain racialized nationalities such as ethnic Koreans, Germans, Crimean Tatars, Chechens, etc. as did the US, South Africa, and other capitalist states did at their worst. The Soviet model did develop the USSR along a path of modernization recognizable in the west, but in a rather ruthless manner during the 30s and 40s. I would posit that the violence was neither necessary for development at least not at the extreme level it assumed or justified even if it did account for the impressive economic and social gains made by the Soviet state.

What is more interesting is the fact that the system continued to provide a rising standard of living and material development after the Soviet government renounced the mass use of terror under Khrushchev. The lack of pricing mechanisms in an internal market to allocate resources became a major problem as the economy continued to grow and become more complex. The economy only continued to grow at all throughout most of the 1970s due to the high cost of oil which the USSR exported. The other major problem was that in an otherwise self sufficient economy, the Soviet Union had to import food to avoid famine. What is amazing is given the problems of micro managing such an economy that the Soviet Union did so well for so long. It was far more successful as a socialist state in industrializing and improving living standards of living than China was under Mao. Part of this is its large size and vast mineral resources including oil allowed for it to continue to develop into the the 1970s despite gross inefficiencies. But, in the 1950s and 1960s it looked like the Soviet state had managed to create an economically viable alternative to US, European, and Japanese capitalism without the mass violence of the Stalin era.

25

Watson Ladd 03.04.12 at 1:31 pm

J. Otto Pohl, life expectancy fell during the 1970′s and 1980′s in Russia. This is undeniable. Whatever the Soviet Union looked like in the 1950′s and 1960′s, its politics had strangled the Spanish Revolution in the crib.

Louis Proyect, the crisis of capital will not mean the extinguishment of the human race, or even of capitalism. Rather it will survive in even more brutal and unconscionable forms.

Lastly that excerpted description of Marx’s discussion of capital was wrong.
Marx understood that capitalists have to meet needs in order to make profits. What makes capitalism crisis ridden or contradictory is that not everyone is able to put their own labor into action to satisfy their own needs through the market.

26

J. Otto Pohl 03.04.12 at 1:56 pm

Ladd, where did I deny that life expectancy fell in the USSR in the 1970s and 1980s? I never mentioned life expectancy in the 1970s or 80s in my post. I only noted that economic growth was good in the 50s and 60s and continued to be positive rather than flat or negative into the 1970s. Although I did note that it started to experience problems in the 1970s which were compensated for mainly by high oil prices. From my understanding the novel in question takes place mostly in the Khrushchev era (1956-1964) during which the Soviet economy outside of agriculture looks pretty good. The average Soviet citizen experienced an improved material standard of living during this time. This improvement continued into the Brezhnev era in the 1960s and even the 1970s.

27

LFC 03.04.12 at 2:12 pm

Lastly that excerpted description of Marx’s discussion of capital was wrong. Marx understood that capitalists have to meet needs in order to make profits. What makes capitalism crisis ridden or contradictory is that not everyone is able to put their own labor into action to satisfy their own needs through the market.

If you’re referring to the excerpt from Red Plenty quoted in the OP, to me it seems to be a very accurate, poetic rendering of Marx on commodity fetishism.

[The commodity-form] is nothing but the definite social relation between men themselves which assumes here, for them, the fantastic form of a relation between things…. to find an analogy we must take flight into the misty realms of religion. There the products of the human brain appear as autonomous figures endowed with a life of their own, which enter into relations both with each other and with the human race. So it is in the world of commodities with the products of men’s hands. (Capital v.1, Penguin ed., p.165)

28

Louis Proyect 03.04.12 at 2:59 pm

Louis Proyect, the crisis of capital will not mean the extinguishment of the human race, or even of capitalism. Rather it will survive in even more brutal and unconscionable forms.

I totally agree. I should have said that the survival of civilization rather than the human race is at stake. This morning CBS News had a report on a vast floating garbage dump of plastic in the Atlantic Ocean. This is the kind of problem that transcends whether capitalism or socialism will lead us to “plenty”. We are dying of “plenty”.

Widespread Floating Plastic Debris Found in the Western North Atlantic Ocean:
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/08/100819141915.htm

29

Louis Proyect 03.04.12 at 3:06 pm

But seriously, I think that if Louis read the book he would find it a lot more interesting and indeed a lot closer to his concerns than he seems to expect.

For those interested in my take on computers and socialism:

http://www.columbia.edu/~lnp3/mydocs/computers.htm

30

Louis Proyect 03.04.12 at 5:21 pm

31

Tanya Golash-Boza 03.04.12 at 5:40 pm

I look forward to the CT discussion of this book.

I am currently wading through Love and Capital, and then would like to read Khruschev Lied by Grover Furr: http://www.amazon.com/Khrushchev-Lied-Revelation-Khrushchevs-Communist/dp/061544105X/ref=cm_cr_pr_pb_t

Red Plenty would be a nice follow-up to those two.

32

Doctor Memory 03.04.12 at 6:05 pm

As a means of defending against the charge of being overly verbose and having a poor signal to noise ratio, posting 9 times in a 30-comment thread (with a “ban me, please!” midway through) is remarkably ineffective.

33

Watson Ladd 03.04.12 at 6:08 pm

LFC, Marx would also recognize an underlying reality to those forces. The forces of exchange are nothing more then the responses of human behavior to the conditions at hand. So the stock price would express the definite social relation between the owners of capital and the owners of labor, and would appear to be an objective thing. Work can no longer be directly about the satisfaction of definite needs: what human need does the making of steel satisfy, before it is bent into a bumper, hammered into a nail, becomes a rivet of an aeroplane or the core of a new hip?

34

DaveL 03.05.12 at 12:27 am

Without discussing the merits of the book, which I have not yet read (but ordered … cheer paperback editions!), it seems obvious that a science fiction or alternate history novel about how the Soviet system might have been made to work via application of computer technology is well within the appropriate realm of the genre.

As for whether its politics or economics or “skiffiness” is sufficient or even plausible, if one can stomach Harry Turtledove one can stomach this. (Not to mention the recent “Africa Reich,” prominently and positively reviewed in The Economist. /ouch)

As a long-time fan of Ken MacLeod, and having read his ecomiums (encomia?), I’m certainly willing to give it a go.

Or, TL;DR even possibly tenditious or didactic SF might potentially be worth reading.

35

engels 03.05.12 at 12:44 am

‘one Louis Proyect is worth about six Daragh McDowells’

…which in turn is worth 20 yards of linen, or 1 coat.

36

Neel Krishnaswami 03.05.12 at 8:22 am

Without discussing the merits of the book, which I have not yet read (but ordered … cheer paperback editions!), it seems obvious that a science fiction or alternate history novel about how the Soviet system might have been made to work via application of computer technology is well within the appropriate realm of the genre.

The Soviets had all the computing power they needed to plan their economy.

The Austrians’ arguments in the socialist calculation debate were entirely incorrect. Briefly, they argued that you needed the distributed computational power of all of society to set relative prices, and that central planners would face a computationally intractable problem. This turns out to be untrue: in terms of modern complexity theory, setting prices is very hard: finding Arrow-Debreu equilibria is PPAD-complete, and furthermore you can show that even the problem of finding approximate competitive equilibria is just as hard. So while central planners face an intractable problem, so do markets.

The problems the Soviet system faced were primarily the organizational pathologies of bureaucracy. The fate of Ivan Khudenko is instructive. In the early 1970s, Khudenko ran an experimental farm system on the “link system”, in which teams of farm workers were paid in proportion to the output of the farm area, and got an order-of-magnitude improvement in yields. The Mises/Hayek analysis of socialism predicts that planners would be able to quickly adopt changes like this, but would be unable to manage longer-range correlations. In fact, as a normal person would expect, the link system was quickly shut down and Khudenko was imprisoned, because his success meant that many important officials in the agriculture ministry were wrong.

37

Latro 03.05.12 at 10:59 am

Loved the book, looking forward to the seminar, which probably will be all over my head but I’ll learn something of use :-)

Would this have any relation (not in time, of course) with that “Cybersocialism supercomputer” stuff on Ayende’s Chile that I keep reading (and probably described in the worst cliché-ridden way possible right now)?

38

Louis Proyect 03.05.12 at 2:45 pm

http://www.scribd.com/doc/2522923/Designing-Freedom-Regulating-a-Nation-Socialist-Cybernetics-in-Allendes-Chile

Designing Freedom, Regulating a Nation : Socialist Cybernetics in
Allende’s Chile

EDEN MEDINA

Abstract.This article presents a history of ‘Project Cybersyn’, an early
computer network developed in Chile during the socialist presidency of
Salvador Allende (1970–1973) to regulate the growing social property
area and manage the transition of Chile’s economy from capitalism to
socialism. Under the guidance of British cybernetician Stafford Beer,
often lauded as the ‘ father of management cybernetics ’, an
interdisciplinary Chilean team designed cybernetic models of factories
within the nationalised sector and created a network for the rapid
transmission of econ- omic data between the government and the factory
floor. The article describes the construction of this unorthodox system,
examines how its structure reflected the socialist ideology of the
Allende government, and documents the contributions of this technology
to the Allende administration.

On 12 November 1971 British cybernetician Stafford Beer met Chilean
President Salvador Allende to discuss constructing an unprecedented tool
for economic management. For Beer the meeting was of the utmost im-
portance ; the project required the president’s support. During the
previous ten days Beer and a small Chilean team had worked frantically
to develop a plan for a new technological system capable of regulating
Chile’s economic transition in a manner consistent with the socialist
principles of Allende’s presidency. The project, later referred to as
‘Cybersyn’ in English and ‘Synco’ in Spanish,1 would network every firm
in the expanding nationalised sector of the economy to a central
computer in Santiago, enabling the government to grasp the status of
production quickly and respond to econ- omic crises in real time.
Although Allende had been briefed on the project ahead of time, Beer was
charged with the task of explaining the system to the President and
convincing him that the project warranted government support.

Eden Medina is Assistant Professor of Informatics in the School of
Informatics at Indiana University and is affiliated with the Indiana
University Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

(clip)

39

Seekonk 03.05.12 at 4:00 pm

It’s important to analyze and understand the crimes, errors, and inefficiencies of the governments which tried to be or claimed to be socialist/communist.

It’s even more important to scrutinize the methods and outcomes of capitalism, which has a much more extensive track record and is currently dominant. Half the world is living in squalor under the obscurantist sway of despots and oligarchies.

40

J. Otto Pohl 03.05.12 at 4:22 pm

36

The link system predates 1970s by several decades. It goes back to the late 1930s. During WWII it was adopted by a number of collective farms. A.A. Andreyev in the politburo and the head of Gosplan, N.A. Voznesensky supported wide spread adoption of the system during the war. But, it was ultimately opposed by Stalin and explicitly condemned in Pravda in 1950 after which Andreyev admitted his earlier advocacy of links had been wrong. In the 1960s the link system was renewed on a limited scale . Khudenko’s experiment with the link system took place in Kazakhstan in 1972. But, he was arrested and sentenced to six years in connection with the farm. The procurator claimed he defrauded the government. He died after two serving two years.

See G. Hosking, The First Socialist Society: A History of the Soviet Union from Within 2nd Edition (Harvard University Press, 1993), pp. 280, 297-8, 393-5.

41

ajay 03.05.12 at 4:58 pm

Rather looking forward to the seminar. For those who have already read “Red Plenty”, the same author’s “I May Be Some Time: Ice and the English Imagination” is, I would say, even better, though it contains virtually no economics.

42

Henri Vieuxtemps 03.05.12 at 5:46 pm

Wow, this Khudenko incident is an amazing story. And the main thrust of it is not that he got destroyed because (per 36) “officials in the agriculture ministry were wrong” and didn’t want to admit it, but it sounds very much like a class war incident: party bosses felt that the workers on the farm earn too much.

43

Miracle Max 03.06.12 at 5:55 pm

I had great hopes for the book. Besides interest in the topic, I actually did some serious reading on economic planning in grad school. I’m sorry to say I found the book tedious, lots of Econ 101 blather about why central planning is really difficult (a position I share). The sort of stuff you read on libertarian economic blogs. I couldn’t get through it. Too much like work.

In at least one respect, Louis’ recapitulations about the USSR are salient in underscoring the difference between really-existing planning and idealized conceptions. The book operates more on the idealized plane (as far as I got in it), in a sense taking and debunking planning in its own terms. Which is fine, but I don’t care. To anybody interested I leave the bone of “Soviet planning wasn’t real planning . . . ” Perhaps not but . . . you know.

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