Why the Soviet Union failed - my hypothesis

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DarthMetaKnight
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10 Aug 2010, 4:30 pm

As I have said before on this site, I think that humans are naturally prone to selecting a personal "band" who they care about and treating everyone else with relative indifference. That is a key element in understanding why the Soviet Union failed.

The goal of the soviet union was to overthrow the Russian authorities and set up new authorities (I.E. dictatorship of the proletariat) that would train people to be good to one another (much like how a human housebreaks a dog). The theory behind this was that after everyone was trained to be good, the state would "wither away" leaving utopian anarchy in its place. Correct me if I'm wrong on any of this because I find reading about communism to be a bit confusing at times. Lots of communists have different ideas of why the Soviet Union failed in its goal, one of these is that the Soviet Union failed because of harassment from the United States. I think the modern-day communists are just blowing smoke when they make such claims.

Let's consider Joseph Stalin when he was in power. He and the party have dicatorship over the proletariat. Who do you think he has identified as his band? I think he has identified the other members of the government (I.E. the ones he hasn't killed) as his band. He doesn't care about the proletariat because it is simply not in his nature to do so. I don't think Stalin was very different from the average person. I think you or I would probably do a lot of the same things he did if you or I were in the same situation. He began to see the soviet masses as nothing more than cows who only needed to be kept alive so they could be milked.

Also, let's consider the size of the "bands" of prehistory. They were usually only 30-50 individuals in size. Since our instincts have changed little since prehistory, it can be reasonably suggested that we humans are not psychlogically built to have power over more than 150 individuals - and I think that's being generous. Joseph Stalin and the soviet government had power over millions of people and it can be safely said the the government felt little emotional attachment to the masses.

I think that whenever humans have power over more than, say, 150 individuals, crazy things happen in the brain. What crazy things happen varies from individual to individual. Some may become bumbling and incompetent, but I think far more become "power mad" in which they are obsessed woth power and are overcome with the desire for more. I think it varies from individual to individual how many people one can rule before going power mad.

This hypothesis can also be applied to the American government and bourgeoisie. The population of America is over 300,000,000. The government and bourgoise have power over all that. I think it is safe to say that a great portion of them are power mad - probably most of them.

Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. The leaders want more power and they know that if they increase their power quickly the people will notice. If the people notice they/we could start a revolution. Sure, it could fail and create a dictatorship, but a revolution would still be terrible for those currenlty in power. Those in power are terrified of us and have every reason to be as we outnumber them 9 to 1 (and the russian revolutionaries weren't even a majority!). Fortunatly for them, a ruler can increase his control slowly so as not to disturb the flock.

I'm honestly not sure if there is any hope for the human race to be free from power madness. Perhaps humanity could be spilt up into small communities dotted across the world with about as much popultion as one of the primitive bands - perhaps a bit more - so that there is no power mad oligarchy. However I'm not sure setting up such a system is possible. It could be that humanity is screwed.

EDIT: I now realize that I was so hasty that I forgot to include exactly what the leaders have been doing to increase their power. Marijuana prohibition, the patriot act, and the growing rich-poor divide are all examples.


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Orwell
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10 Aug 2010, 5:57 pm

DarthMetaKnight wrote:
The goal of the soviet union was to overthrow the Russian authorities and set up new authorities (I.E. dictatorship of the proletariat)

Perhaps partially, but the aristocracy and monarchy had already been overthrown before the Communists seized power.

Quote:
Lots of communists have different ideas of why the Soviet Union failed in its goal, one of these is that the Soviet Union failed because of harassment from the United States. I think the modern-day communists are just blowing smoke when they make such claims.

Not entirely. The USSR was under a great deal of pressure from the West, and the US did send military aid to the enemies of the Bolshevik Party during the civil war. Most major nations refused for a long time to extend diplomatic recognition to the Soviets or to allow any trade dealings with them, which isolated the USSR economically and diplomatically and made it much more difficult for them to rebuild after WWI and the Russian civil war. And of course even once they were established they were opposed at every turn, regardless of what they were trying to do. Even when Stalin set out to stop Hitler, he could find no support among the leaders of Western Europe.

Quote:
I think he has identified the other members of the government (I.E. the ones he hasn't killed) as his band.

Stalin wasn't known to trust anyone, not even those loyal to him.

Quote:
Also, let's consider the size of the "bands" of prehistory. They were usually only 30-50 individuals in size. Since our instincts have changed little since prehistory, it can be reasonably suggested that we humans are not psychlogically built to have power over more than 150 individuals - and I think that's being generous. Joseph Stalin and the soviet government had power over millions of people and it can be safely said the the government felt little emotional attachment to the masses.

That seems somewhat reasonable. Most people really can't conceptualize of thousands or millions of people in the same way they can see a handful of people they actually know.


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10 Aug 2010, 6:19 pm

Quite cordially, I think that harassment from the United States makes more sense than this explanation, which basically says that the Soviet Union failed because Stalin was "power mad".



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10 Aug 2010, 6:22 pm

A Soviet put it as "We had engineers but no philosophy."

I think that's a good way to sum up the general movement to death. It's always bad when you have those who create but no one who imagines. It's a problem I'm seeing forming here....no philosophy, just engineers (not even scientific ones...just marketing and banking engineers).


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10 Aug 2010, 6:31 pm

skafather84 wrote:
A Soviet put it as "We had engineers but no philosophy."

I think that's a good way to sum up the general movement to death. It's always bad when you have those who create but no one who imagines. It's a problem I'm seeing forming here....no philosophy, just engineers (not even scientific ones...just marketing and banking engineers).


Soviet Union had better artists than many other countries of the same time (particularly the capitalist utopia of the USA). Think of the Russian composers of the time, and filmmakers (some of the best were Soviets). I'm not sure about philosophy, but they did have art.



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10 Aug 2010, 6:35 pm

skafather84 wrote:
A Soviet put it as "We had engineers but no philosophy."

I think that's a good way to sum up the general movement to death. It's always bad when you have those who create but no one who imagines. It's a problem I'm seeing forming here....no philosophy, just engineers (not even scientific ones...just marketing and banking engineers).

Quite the opposite of that is true, actually. The USSR went through a crisis in the 30s and 40s when they had almost no properly trained engineers, but they had plenty of ideologues. All of their scientific efforts (at least in the early years) were structured around Communist philosophy.


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10 Aug 2010, 6:41 pm

Orwell wrote:
skafather84 wrote:
A Soviet put it as "We had engineers but no philosophy."

I think that's a good way to sum up the general movement to death. It's always bad when you have those who create but no one who imagines. It's a problem I'm seeing forming here....no philosophy, just engineers (not even scientific ones...just marketing and banking engineers).

Quite the opposite of that is true, actually. The USSR went through a crisis in the 30s and 40s when they had almost no properly trained engineers, but they had plenty of ideologues. All of their scientific efforts (at least in the early years) were structured around Communist philosophy.


I meant more from the 60s onward. The initial communist philosophy changed a lot within 20 or so years. But then again, so has the republican philosophy.


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11 Aug 2010, 7:41 am

Honestly, I think history testifies that when there is a revolution, it's not uncommon for the revolutionaries to be as bad or even worse than the power they revolted against.

It takes people of good judgment, selflessness, moral character to craft a government that doesn't put them at the top of the heap at everyone else's expense.

There wasn't a day after the soviet revolution that the soviets tried to craft a government that would make every soviet equal. Instead, there was the group that had the power and everyone else, and those outside the party were subjected to equality in poverty.

People think free societies just pop up everywhere overnight. In truth, they are few and far between in human history. Hard to form and easy to lose.



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11 Aug 2010, 8:00 am

zer0netgain wrote:

There wasn't a day after the soviet revolution that the soviets tried to craft a government that would make every soviet equal. Instead, there was the group that had the power and everyone else, and those outside the party were subjected to equality in poverty.
.


Human nature at work. The Soviet Union quickly became a thug-gangster regime and after the death of Lenin (who was an intellectual and a thug), Stalin became the cappo de tutti cappo.

In the less gangsterish nations the manipulators, tricksters, sellers of hokum and con-men end up near the top. One can control more with a smile than a snarl.

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11 Aug 2010, 1:21 pm

At root, I think the collapse is attributable in its most simple terms to the failure of the Soviet planning system to replace Adam Smith's "invisible hand."

When productivity and growth are measured by "official reports" rather than real production; when managers and producers have no incentive beyond "targets"; when consumers have no opportunity to dictate the kind and quality of goods and services, then productivity and growth inevitably fail.

So long as you can keep your population fed, clothed, housed and ignorant of anything better in the world outside, you may be able to delay the inevitable. But in time, the inevitable will come.

What will be interesting to watch is the degree to which the move to gangster capitalism will plunge Russia into another crisis. Warlords can be fairly efficient economic engines, until they come into conflict and the waste sets in.


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11 Aug 2010, 2:05 pm

There is simply no practical way to command a complex modern economy in detail. The only controls are feedback dynamics which balance production and consumption of goods and services. How to get the Law of Supply and Demand working constructively for us. Adam Smith took the first step with his notion of the "invisible hand" which is really a manifestation of negative feedback dynamic control.

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11 Aug 2010, 2:07 pm

I think the communist system in the USSR just lost it's purpose. Running the country like one big business is great for uniting everyone to rise to the top, but what happens when you're already there? It's human nature to strive for more, and if there's no way for the people to work together to do that, they will then compete amongst themselves. Then comes the corruption, the loss of morale, and eventually division.

The capitolist system is built on competition and it fuels the human need for greed perfectly.



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11 Aug 2010, 2:55 pm

deadeyexx wrote:
I think the communist system in the USSR just lost it's purpose. Running the country like one big business is great for uniting everyone to rise to the top, but what happens when you're already there? It's human nature to strive for more, and if there's no way for the people to work together to do that, they will then compete amongst themselves. Then comes the corruption, the loss of morale, and eventually division.

The capitolist system is built on competition and it fuels the human need for greed perfectly.


The Soviet Union was never run as a business. It it had been so run, it would not have collapsed.

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11 Aug 2010, 3:34 pm

ruveyn wrote:
The Soviet Union was never run as a business. It it had been so run, it would not have collapsed.

ruveyn


Governments should never be run as businesses.

I am fed up to the teeth with the idea that people from the private sector can come wading into the public sector and, "set them straight." People in business have it easy. In business, there is one, and only one, metric for success. Business decisions are quantifiable, and can be readily subjected to analysis.

However, there are services that are necessary, but that are not in anyone's direct commercial interest to provide. These are the province of the public sector, and most of them are not subject to commercial analysis.

If you run a business, you can decide whether or not to move into a particular product or service line on the basis of your expectation of demand, the presence of competitors, the mean household income of the area in which you intend to offer your services, the cost of delivery of the service and the price point at which you can sell it. More importantly, you can choose not to enter into a particular business line if you are not persuaded that it is in your commercial interest so to do.

The public sector, however, is always a challenge of balancing the public's demand for services against the public's willingness to fund them.

If you run a hospital, you cannot use a comemrcial analysis to decided whether to dedicate your limited resources to more emergency or oncology services. You are mandated to provide both, but who gets the marginal increment? There's no money metric for this kind of decision.

If you are running the military, where do you focus your procurement? Again, there's no money metric, because you don't know from one day to the next whether you are going to need to send infantry on peacekeeping or ships to SAR.

If you run a school, do resources go to programs for gifted children, programs for children with learning disabilities, broader curriculum or extra curricular activity?

The public sector is full of judgements like this every day.


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31 Aug 2010, 10:55 am

I think you maybe onto something- if I understand what youre saying.

The natural state of man- the way we lived for the eons of the Stone Age were as small hunter gatherer bands.

It took 20 square miles of land to support one person.

You would live in a band of about 60 people embeded in a larger tribe of about 500 people who shared your language. You would fight wars, trade, and get mates from farther groups who spoke 'foriegn' languages.

When civilization appeared population densities got greater. More folks had to live together in large cities and states- with rulers, laws and social classes and money etc.

Karl Marx advocated a classless society in which there was no private wealth producing property (ie no capitalism).

In a sense Marxism is an attempt to return to the classless moneyless condition of the paleolithic tribes of the stone age when everyone knew each other and society functioned like an extended family.


But what you seem to be saying is that when someone tries to put that idea on the map-actualy tries to run a modern nationstate as if it were a stone age tribe of sixty people it either falls apart- or degenerates into raw tyranny because no one can identify with more than a handful of people as your tribal 'band".

Makes sense.



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25 Sep 2010, 4:43 pm

"The soviet union failed because communism, in practice, in incompatible with human nature on a macroscopic scale. To date, no inception of communism has taken the human psyche into account, and the failure of those communist revolutionaries to realize that not everyone wants to jump on the communist bandwagon, and that most who jump on eventually want to jump off. This underscores the lack of empathy, within communist movements, to the desires and needs of the individual, and encompasses one of the primary reasons that communism inevitably fails."

I happen to agree with this.

In democratic regulated free market societies, you ride horse.
In communist society, horse ride you.