I’m sure you’ll have a formidable counter-argument, Svetlana Voreskova, you always do, but pardon…
Ron Collins

No I don’t have any counter argument. I think you are right. I am not well up on whether or not the USSR paid its debts on time, but I know that severe pressure had to be brought to bear by the USA on its allies not to trade with Russia. Just so you know I use the word “allies” very loosely. Very often we are talking about dependants or vassals whether we are talking about the USSR or the USA. Russia always had and still has vast natural resources so it always had something to sell that someone wanted and it also had taps it could turn off if it needed to punish some dependant country for not toeing the line.

Your characterising of Russian government foreign policy as “a staggering misdirection of national priorities” seems about spot on to me, especially in the Brezhnev years when it all revolved around propping up a failed ideology which even the leadership had tacitly admitted was never going to work. It is a perfect example of ideology taking on a life of its own and surviving and growing even when the leaders are no longer particularly pushing it. The gears of the ideology are still revolving and the administrative machine still promotes the failed system because that is what the machine is programmed to promote.

Russia had once been the bread-basket of Europe before the annihilation of the Kulaks. During the Stalin years production had held up reasonably well because of slave labour. But by the 1970s the USSR was producing a fraction of what it had once produced, because the gulags were now a memory and most people had no interest on working on the collectives. Even those that did work on them had no motivation to work very hard. Collectivised farms were practically custom designed to fail.

That was not disastrous in Russia as it had been in other communist countries because of the Russian dacha tradition. Most Russians produced much of their own food and also often produced surplus to trade. It is my opinion that the communists only tolerated the dacha system because it meant that Russians could feed themselves in spite of empty supermarkets, and that helped put a little band-aid on the failure of Marxism.

But to be fair I believe that the dacha system is one of the best policies that any country has ever implemented and when things got really bad, those dachas both prevented famine and also gave people some measure of freedom from the state. If all the various movements and protesters and tree-huggers and “resistance” types really wanted to do some good for America; they would be campaigning not for UBI or any more state sponsored neo-Marxist madness; they would be campaigning for the introduction of a dacha system.

In terms of the collective farms; Brezhnev could have taken the common sense step of simply parcelling the land back out to private ownership and then sat back to watch it bloom again. Russia would then have had massive reserves of both oil and grain to sell. But that would have been blasphemy against Marxist doctrine. So the USSR traded oil for North American grain that nobody in Russia particularly needed. That grain was mostly traded for Cuban sugar that nobody ever used and there was no benefit whatsoever to Russia.

But when people who are interested in economics ponder Russian policy they must conclude that the Moscow government must have been completely stupid. But they were not stupid. They were just frozen under a spell of doctrine. Why did they trade valuable oil for grain which they promptly gave away to Cuba in exchange for unusable sugar and undrinkable coffee? Well to play at international solidarity according to the gospel of Karl. Each according to their needs and all that. Brothers in arms against the capitalist imperialists! Peace, land and bread — bread which would be made in Cuba from North American grain.

Meanwhile Russians tended bees on their dachas to produce honey to sweeten the Brazilian or North African coffee; that had been smuggled in by Black Sea fishermen and traded at illegal markets.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Svetlana Voreskova’s story.