Is the Red Flag Flying?: The Political Economy of the



10 thoughts on “Is the Red Flag Flying?: The Political Economy of the Soviet Union (Imperialism series)

  1. Tyler Tyler says:

    My overall conclusion is that the Soviet Union cannot be considered a social imperialist country, although there are elements of hegemonism in its for the most part progressive foreign economic and political relations The U.S.S.R is then a society in which a coalition of this new technical petty bourgeoisie rules together with the manual working class 9 10 Albert Szymanski s work is fantastic He corrects many of the overly negative assessments on the Soviet Union, and argues, with My overall conclusion is that the Soviet Union cannot be considered a social imperialist country, although there are elements of hegemonism in its for the most part progressive foreign economic and political relations The U.S.S.R is then a society in which a coalition of this new technical petty bourgeoisie rules together with the manual working class 9 10 Albert Szymanski s work is fantastic He corrects many of the overly negative assessments on the Soviet Union, and argues, with data from mostly Anglo Saxon Sovietology e.g Alec Nove, Robert Conquest, Ronald J Hill, Paul Gregory etc and official sources e.g the UN Statistical Yearbook , that the USSR is a rapidly developing socialist nation, and not a crumbling totalitarian empire From the left, however, Szymanski, argues that the USSR is not restoring capitalism and disbanding its socialist principles, due to the Soviets push towards the equalisation of wages, and the Soviets offering economic development which often out bids the capitalist West for developing communist and non communist countries Szymanski s methodology is clear and fairly simplistic, he puts forth his Marxist, and sympathetic take, on the USSR, and cites his references accordingly There are a couple of problems with Szymanski s work, for example his economic analysis is pretty basic Michael Ellman reviewed Szymanski negatively for this, but fails to mention that Szymanski s book isn t really a book for economists, butsociologically focused, defending the two points above Perhaps Szymanski should have renamed the book a sociology of the USSR , rather than the political economy Also, it is worth noting that Szymanski s training is in sociology not economics, and econometrics or complex mathematical formulae wouldn t really help his explanation of how socialism works in the USSR So, with this considered, Szymanski s formulas like In the Soviet Union retail prices are set by the state to clear the market If there is too much demand for a commodity, its price is raised if too little, it is lowered 42 can be forgiven Also, a discussion of rent and banking probably isn t what the audience of this type of text are looking for, for this the Western sovietologists listed would suffice, or perhaps a reading of some of the early middle chapters of Janos Kornai would fill this gap Another problem with Szymanski s text, is the absence of writing on the negative aspects of socialism My feeling is that Szymanski is forgiving of some of the less impressive aspects of Soviet society, because he sees it as a developing country both economically and socially, so its brutality in some areas can be forgiven as part of its historical juncture Ellman, for example, criticised Szymanski for evaluating the USSR by reference to the absence of unfavourable aspects of their own social system, such as unemployment , whilst ignoring shortages, the national question, bureaucracy, informers, corruption, investment tension, censorship, hunger for possessions, cynicism I agree, that Szymanski is not critical enough on censorship, shortages and investment, but accurate data is hard to come by on the first two things, and Szymanski s text largely serves as a corrective for accounts of the USSR which focus excessively on those things, rather than the positive aspects which Szymanski probably shocks most modern readers with e.g the high level of literacy, stability of prices, and impressive growth rates So, rather than attacking Szymanski for this, aconstructive response may be to encourage readers to search out other texts and balance the data and rhetoric accordingly.Other than these minor problems, this is a text I would certainly recommend to those interested in the USSR, and certainly for those looking for a counter narrative to that of the totalitarian school of thought pushed by Robert Conquest, Hannah Arendt, Richard Pipes and co


  2. Kyle Kyle says:

    short answer yes, kind of the book basically argues that the soviet union was on balance progressive, internally and in its relations with other states szymanski doesn t find evidence of a coercive labor market a reserve army of unemployed , a ruling class, or a profit motive externally, he doesn t find that the soviet union maintained neocolonies or that it manipulated governments into concluding unequal treaties or trade agreements he does find evidence how could you miss it of what short answer yes, kind of the book basically argues that the soviet union was on balance progressive, internally and in its relations with other states szymanski doesn t find evidence of a coercive labor market a reserve army of unemployed , a ruling class, or a profit motive externally, he doesn t find that the soviet union maintained neocolonies or that it manipulated governments into concluding unequal treaties or trade agreements he does find evidence how could you miss it of what he calls hegemonism, but he passes most of this off as anti NATO paranoia for instance, he sees the hungarian intervention in 1956 as a pre emptive strike against the western powers gaining a foothold in the eastern bloc and weakening the warsaw pact he calls the soviet union technocratic state socialism and provides a helpful chart so you know where his definition of the soviet union fits in with all of his other criteria for different systems where highly skilled workers, academics, bureaucrats and scientists direct production and are not accountable in a direct sense but whose interests largely coincide with those of most citizens and he says that recent trends have been in the direction of increasing worker participation in determining workplace conditions and production, a higher standard of living, a lower rate of inequality, andequal footing with other members of the COMECON all of his data is right there in the footnotes too the predictions he makes at the end of the book are obviously totally moot now, and he does gloss over or weasel through certain events the purges, the interventions in hungary and czechoslovakia , and he outright ignores possible regional variation in the soviet union itself, restricting himself to describing the interactions between the soviet union and different blocs of countries eastern europe, the socialist and non socialist third world if he had looked harder at central asia or siberia he might have decided that the soviet union was social imperialist after all to be fair and to do some weaseling of my own he is defending the soviet union from charges made by other groups, and nobody else seems to mention or care about regional variation and national minorities in the soviet union but in general he makes his case well, and it s refreshing to read someone discussing somethingconcrete than after the implementation of these reforms, capitalism was restored his in depth investigations of actually existing soviet society show that it s waycomplicated than that I ve never seen, for example, someone actually discuss the soviet job market or the commodity basket of necessary goods and how affordable it was for average people you don t realize how crucial these things are to an argument about the restoration of capitalism until you read a book like this one


  3. Grace Grace says:

    Szymanski convincingly argues that the USSR was genuinely socialist in the 80s There s a couple big issues I take with this book, however Firstly, Szymanski seems to view socialism as a mode of production that is classless similar to Stalin s view on socialism Seeing socialism as its own mode of production is ridiculous in my opinion, though it doesn t particularly hurt Szymanski s argument A second criticism is Szymanski s lack of attention to self detemination, race, and colonialism in t Szymanski convincingly argues that the USSR was genuinely socialist in the 80s There s a couple big issues I take with this book, however Firstly, Szymanski seems to view socialism as a mode of production that is classless similar to Stalin s view on socialism Seeing socialism as its own mode of production is ridiculous in my opinion, though it doesn t particularly hurt Szymanski s argument A second criticism is Szymanski s lack of attention to self detemination, race, and colonialism in the USSR Did Russia ethnic Russians relationship with the Central Asian republics and or with Siberia indigenous Siberians constitute colonialism And if so what does this say about the class nature of the USSR and or the value of orthodox Marxism s conception of socialism as an analytic Szymanski doesn t go into these questions


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