Monument to a ruined age

Red Plenty by Francis Spufford uses ficionalised lives to look at the myriad ways the plan affected the lives of Russians, especially those labouring deep within the system. There’s a fascinating post at A Year in Berlin detailing a monument to the planned economy in the former East Germany.

‘Soviet industry in its last decades existed because it existed, an empire of inertia expanding ever more slowly, yet attaining the wretched distinction of absorbing more of the total effort of the economy that hosted it than heavy industry hasever done anywhere else in human history, before or since. Every year it produced goods that less and less corresponded to human needs, and whatever it once started producing, it tended to go on producing ad infinitum, since it possessed no effective stop signals except ruthless commands from above, and the people at the top no longer did ruthless, in the economic sphere.

The control system for industry grew more and more erratic, the information flowing back to the planners grew more and more corrupt. And the activity of industry, all that human time and machine time it used up, added less and less value to the raw materials it sucked in. Maybe no value. Maybe less than none. One economist has argued that, by the end, it was actively destroying value; it had become a system for spoiling perfectly good materials by turning them into objects no one wanted.’

See also Adam Curtis’s series Pandora’s Box, which deals with the Soviet economy in some detail. Curtis also has a post on his BBC blog, Lada’s Theme, centering around archive footage of British Leyland managers visiting the Russian Togliatti car plant, home of AvtoVAZ, better known as Lada (the town was named for the Italian Communist party leader, for it was Italy who had sold them the factory and tooling for its first car, essential the Fiat 124, a car which as the Lada 2107 only ceased production in 2012). As the Soviet system gave way to ‘gangster capitalism’, a certain Boris Berezovsky expertly played the game to kickstart his fortune – Curtis neatly links this back to the implosion of MG Rover in the UK in 2005, recently in the news.

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