When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Russia

Did The Soviet Union Drink Itself To Death?

Overly reliant on commodities and energy exports, and grossly out of balance on the agricultural front, Russia’s Soviet-era economy was doomed to collapse, argues Hungarian historian György Dalos. It didn't help that the USSR kept boosting alcoho

Did The Soviet Union Drink Itself To Death?

*NEWSBITES

It's been 20 years since the fall of the Soviet empire and hardly a year goes by without at least one new book offering to explain the collapse. This year is no exception. Berlin-based Hungarian historian György Dalos adds his views in the recently published Lebt wohl, Genossen (Goodbye, Comrades). But while the subject itself may be a bit old hat at this point, Dalos' contribution – which contains some novel and very interesting details – is nevertheless worth paying attention to.

The Hungarian author starts his argument by quoting British historian Norman Davies: "The most noticeable thing about the Soviet collapse was that it followed a natural course." Unlike the Roman Empire, the Soviet Union wasn't attacked by barbarians. Nor was it carved up by hungry neighbors, or worn down by a major war. "It died because it had to," said Davies.

Dalos spells out that "natural course" by sketching some political, cultural and everyday realities of late socialism that illustrate how Communism was not destroyed from the outside but simply disintegrated, came unglued at the seams, collapsed under its own weight. Die-hard Communists will no doubt resist Dalos' arguments, but the number of examples he provides to illustrate his thesis is substantial.

Dalos mentions the work of Soviet economists working with Tatjana Saslawskaja and Abel Aganbegjan at the prestigious Novosibirsk Institute of Economics in Siberia. Those researchers showed early on that a controlled economy was the underlying reason for the stagnation of the Soviet economy.

Exports were particularly unhealthy: they increasingly consisted of commodities and energy and less and less of machines and manufactured products – a situation that Russia still suffers from today.

Things didn't look much better in the agricultural sector, with imbalances that had the Soviets producing six times more tractors than the United States, which had more grain. Again, Dalos concludes, unless today's Russia comes up with sustainable reforms, the rebirth of anything resembling an empire is not in the cards.

One of the most compelling arguments Dalos advances for the implosion of the Soviet Union is the role played by alcohol. Between 1936 and 1970, alcohol production rose by 157%. By 1975, it increased by 214%, and by 1976 it reached 327%. The state alcohol monopoly may have been pulling in 20 billion rubles yearly during the 1970s, and 40 billion in the 1980s, but the cost to the economy of lowered production due to alcohol-related causes, not least sickness, was far, far higher.

Read the full story in German by Thomas Speckmann

Photo - Leo Smith Photos / gaucho74

*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations

You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
Geopolitics

How South American Oceans Can Sway The U.S.-China Showdown

As global rivalries and over-fishing impact the seas around South America, countries there must find a common strategy to protect their maritime backyards.

RIMPAC 2022

Juan Gabriel Tokatlian

-Analysis-

BUENOS AIRES — As the U.S.-China rivalry gathers pace, oceans matter more than ever. This is evident just looking at the declarations and initiatives enacted concerning the Indian and Pacific oceans.

Yet there is very little debate in South America on the Sino-American confrontation and its impact on seas around South America, specifically the South-Eastern Pacific (SEP) and South-Western Atlantic (SWA). These have long ceased to be empty spaces — and their importance to the world's superpowers can only grow.

Keep reading...Show less

When the world gets closer, we help you see farther

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
You've reached your monthly limit of free articles.
To read the full article, please subscribe.
Get unlimited access. Support Worldcrunch's unique mission:
  • Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.
  • Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries
  • $2.90/month or $19.90/year. No hidden charges. Cancel anytime.
Already a subscriber? Log in
Writing contest - My pandemic story
THE LATEST
FOCUS
TRENDING TOPICS

Central to the tragic absurdity of this war is the question of language. Vladimir Putin has repeated that protecting ethnic Russians and the Russian-speaking populations of Ukraine was a driving motivation for his invasion.

Yet one month on, a quick look at the map shows that many of the worst-hit cities are those where Russian is the predominant language: Kharkiv, Odesa, Kherson.

Watch VideoShow less
MOST READ