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Then the makers and the things made turned alike into commodities, and the motion of society turned into a kind of zombie dance, a grim cavorting whirl in which objects and people blurred together till the objects were half alive and the people were half dead. A dance to the music of use, where every step fulfilled some real need, did some tangible good, and no matter how fast the dancers spun, they moved easily, because they moved to a human measure, intelligible to all, chosen by all.Stock-market prices acted back upon the world as if they were independent powers, requiring factories to be opened or closed, real human beings to work or rest, hurry or dawdle; and they, having given the transfusion that made the stock prices come alive, felt their flesh go cold and impersonal on them, mere mechanisms for chunking out the man-hours. Strange as it may seem, the gray, oppressive USSR was founded on a fairy tale.You could have a perfectly good factory that could be producing lots of useful things if only you had one extra eensy-weensy part, but unless the higher-ups had allocated you that part, you were out of luck.If that part happened to break, getting a new one would depend on how much clout you (and your superiors) pulled versus how much clout other people who wanted parts (and their superiors) held.And there were equal incentives, in the form of promotion or transfer to a desirable location such as Moscow, for overperformance.There were even monetary bonuses, although money bought a lot less than it did in capitalist countries and was universally considered inferior to status in terms of purchasing power.Under capitalism, everyone is competing with each other, and much of your budget is spent on zero-sum games like advertising and marketing and sales to give you a leg up over your competition.
Later, when the state became less murder-happy, the threat of death faded to threats of demotions, ruined careers, and transfer to backwater provinces. I decided to read Red Plenty because my biggest gripe after reading Singer’s book on Marx was that Marx refused to plan how communism would actually work, instead preferring to leave the entire matter for the World-Spirit to sort out.But almost everything that interests me about Communism falls under the category of “how communism would actually work”.So your choice between capitalism and communism is a trade-off between those two things.
But for at least the first fifty years of the Cold War, the Soviets would not have come close to granting you that these are the premises on which the battle must be fought.
They realized that they’d started with a handicap – czarist Russia had been dirt poor and almost without an industrial base – and that they’d faced a further handicap in having the Nazis burn half their country during World War II – but they figured as soon as they overcame these handicaps their natural advantages would let them leap ahead of the West in only a couple of decades. Grant that communism really does have the above advantages over capitalism. The classic answer is that during communism no one wants to work hard.