It’s always just a little bit more, isn’t it?
The Need for Democratization, Sakharov, Turchin, and Medvedev (1970) [pdf]
I can’t remember whether I found out that Vasily Turchin was Peter’s papa because I was brushing up on cybernetics or I found out Vasily was a prominent cyberneticist because I was reading about Peter Turchin, but either way I found this essay, which is worth reading for all serious right-wingers (and especially for neoreactionaries). Why? For the sake of argument, let’s adopt the following three premises:
- In the long run, societies that are growing more powerful crush those that are not growing more powerful. (Realist Thesis)
- Letting dilettantes and students blabber to each other is necessary for economic and technical growth. (Turchin Hypothesis)
- Once a society starts letting dilettantes and students blabber to each other, social collapse ensues nearly immediately. (Reactionary Analysis of Glasnost)
If the realist thesis, the Turchin hypothesis, and the reactionary analysis of glasnost are all correct, then we are in a terrible double-bind. If, God willing, we restore one or two societies and arrange complimentary helicopter rides for their blabberers, then other, still-degenerating societies will continue to grow more powerful and eventually either (a) force the restored societies back into the Blue Empire (yay fag marriage!) or (b) force the restored societies to let the blabbering resume, leading to social collapse.
Read the essay; it’s a short. It would be easy to dismiss Sakharov, Turchin, and Medvedev as Brahmins demanding more-more-more power. But if their diagnosis of free communication and technical power — what I call the “Turchin Hypothesis” above — is even partially correct, we need to look very carefully at what went wrong in the Soviet Union.
There is a mainstream consensus in the US, from the left through the center to the right, that “we know” that Soviet central planning “didn’t work”. Since this question is so uncontroversial, why it didn’t work gets less attention than it otherwise would. As I drifted rightwards, there was no moment where I became “red-pilled” on 1989; I “already knew” what went wrong in the USSR (or more accurately I was familiar with a range of possible explanations) so I didn’t need to systematically rethink it, the way a socialist true-believer would have had to circa 1988.
The “realist thesis” is almost certainly correct. The reactionary analysis of glasnost could be false in some strong form (liberal antithesis: letting students and dilettantes blabber as much as they want is always better than the alternative), or it could reasonable in general but inappropriate as an analysis of the collapse of the USSR, or it could be dubious in general but accurate specifically as an analysis of the Soviet situation. So if the Turchin hypothesis is true, either (a) restoration is doomed to failure or (a’) all non-liberal societies are doomed to subjugation (the “liberal antithesis”) or (b) the destabilizing effects of liberalization and “democratization” in the USSR were somehow unique or (c) the soundness of Turchin’s hypothesis depends on one specific kind of stagnation that the Soviets were facing. Conversely if it is false in general, (d) it does not apply to the specifics of Soviet stagnation, either.
And this is why the essay makes me want to return to the old question of Soviet sclerosis. Either there is some aspect of their sclerosis and collapse (corresponding to b, c and/or d) which contextualizes or disconfirms Sakharov, Turchin, and Medvedev’s position, or we have to accept some unwelcome implication (a or a’).
Other relevant reading:
- Friedrich von Hayek, The Use of Knowledge in Society (1945): entrepreneurs collectively have more information at their disposal than central planners ever could, but price-signals are the only channels through which this information can travel.
- G.A. Cohen, “Introduction” to Karl Marx’ Theory of History (1978/2000): if only the Bolsheviks had been better Marxists they’d have realized that an agrarian state like Russia needed another century or two of capitalist-enforced saving and reinvestment before it would be ready for socialism. (If you prefer retro-Bolshy apologetics served up as historical fiction, Red Plenty also gives an “insufficient savings” analysis.)
- Paul Krugman, The Myth of Asia’s Miracle (1994): “Rapid Soviet economic growth was based entirely on one attribute: the willingness to save, to sacrifice current consumption for the sake of future production.” And that will only take you so far.
- Francis Fukuyama, The End of History (1989): this essay and the subsequent book try to combine Hayek’s case for free enterprise with Turchin’s case for free expression while also managing (somehow) to play footsie with both Cohen’s hardline “No True Marxist” attitude and Krugman’s orthodox assessment. Nonetheless Fukuyama won a reputation for prescience with this timely essay (which, by the way, is nowhere near as good as his recent work).
- János Kornai, The Socialist System (1992): post-mortem analysis from one of the attending physicians. Kornai fingers a systematic self-reinforcing bias towards under-production (as opposed to the normally-distributed pattern of over- and under-production which Hayek’s theory would predict).
- There is also a political-economy story, based on comparative analysis of the USSR and China, to the effect that the USSR’s problem wasn’t subsidizing inefficient steel mills (e.g.) but failing to continue to subsidize them long enough. The Politburo took Hayek too seriously, tried to enforce market discipline, and fueled massive political resistance to reform from existing stakeholders. Meanwhile China shoveled subsidies directly into the furnaces for as long as they needed to, and their steel workers continued to quietly puddle shitty steel while the economy privatized around them. (If you’ve read the same research and can remember the author, let me know so I can link it.)
- Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Nobel Lecture (1970): another classic example of vintage Soviet samizdat liberalism, which I believe I’ve linked to before.