Un comentario sobre la URSS de los 60

En un artículo de Francis Spufford sobre su reciente libro Red Plenty, que describe la Unión Soviética de los 60, su gran momento, aparece el siguiente trozo:

Going by the measure of the capitalism of the 30s, which is what the Soviet Union had first set out to beat in terms of living standards, Soviet life was now spectacularly prosperous. The USSR could now feed, dress, house and educate its people better than depression America or Nazi Germany. If capitalism had remained unchanged, the Soviet Union would at this point have looked like a reasonable, if tyrannous and polluted, version of the earthly paradise.

Mission accomplished, materially speaking. Instead, of course, capitalism had unfairly shifted the target by doing some growing of its own. Which was why, even on a generous estimate, the average Soviet income still only amounted to 25% or so of the average American one;

Explica las razones para el optimismo de los dirigentes soviéticos de principios de los 60 (aunque la Rusia Zarista de principios del siglo XX era mucho más industrializada de lo que el autor describe):

They’d bootstrapped an industrial base out of virtually nothing, to produce the steel and cement and machine tools on which any further advance depended. They’d trained a workforce and disciplined it in the rhythms of industrial life. They’d educated a peasant society till it was bristling with science degrees. They’d also killed several million people, and massively out-brutalised the capitalist version of the industrial revolution, all in the name of humanity; but their information was limited, thanks to the paranoically limited bandwidth of the channel through which they viewed the outer world, and the vision of capitalism with which they compared their own record was Marx and Engels’s portrait of Manchester a century earlier as a laissez-faire heart of darkness.

Entonces se llegó a pensar que la Utopía se acercaba:

Atop the steel and cement could grow the pastel pagoda of utopia; Marx’s utopia, that deliberately underdescribed idyll where wonderful machines purred away in the background, allowing the human beings in the foreground to «hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind . . .»

En 1961, Kruschev llegó a prometer la fecha en que se alcanzaría la Utopía en el Congreso Anual del partido, y no como una fecha en el avenir radieux de las sátiras de los opositores al régimen durante la década de los 80:

Nope: as a timed, detailed, schedule of events, with 1980 picked out as the date that the «material-technical» basis for full communism would be complete and the cornucopias would be switched on. The 1961 party congress adopted the imminent end of all scarcity as its official programme, thus making possibly the rashest and most falsifiable promise in the entire politics of the 20th century. An act so foolish can only be explained through idealism: Khrushchev’s own, for he was a man whose troubled relationship with his conscience required a happy ending to give him retrospective absolution, but also the idealism coded despite everything into the structure of the régime.

Y la promesa de utopía de Kruschev no era una promesa vaga, sino muy precisa:

Soon, he told the assembled Cubans and Egyptians and East Germans and Mongolians and Vietnamese, Soviet citizens would enjoy products «considerably higher in quality than the best productions of capitalism». Pause a moment, and consider the promise being made there. Not products that were adequate or sufficient or OK; not products a little bit better than capitalism’s. Better than the best. Considerably better. Ladas quieter than any Rolls-Royce. Zhigulis so creamily powerful they put Porsche to shame. Volgas whose doors clunked shut with a heavy perfection that made Mercedes engineers munch their moustaches in envy.

Al artículo está lleno de pequeñas gemas, como ésta que describe por qué las relaciones de mercado con su carácter impersonal, son tanto mejores que las de la URSS:

The smooth impersonality of money-exchange in our society is so embedded that we take it absolutely for granted. If you’ve got the cash, you can have the thing. In the Soviet Union, having the cash was the mere beginning of the campaign to acquire the thing. Every transaction became personal, and not in a warm and fuzzy way. Since the scarce goods weren’t rationed out by ability to pay, they were doled out in proportion to clout, influence, connections, ruthless calculations of mutual advantage. Soviet society was a tangled web of bullying, sycophancy, arm-twisting, back-scratching and emotional blackmail. Everyone made life as difficult as possible for those they dealt with, in order to be able to trade the easing of the difficulty for something else. You want a restaurant table, a dress, your phone repaired? Then find me some roofing felt, a Black Sea holiday, a private tutor for my son. Instead of post-capitalist freedom and sophistication, the Soviet Union offered pre-capitalist barter, with a large helping of robber baron-hood on the side.

Como lo señaló Hayek, las ineficiencias del sistema soviético provenían de que no se producía el flujo de información transmitido por los precios. Pero la solución de tratar de modelar la economía enfrentó un problema mucho mayor: la información tiene un carácter estratégico cuando es asimétrica:

All of the perversities in the Soviet economy that I’ve described above are the classic consequences of running a system without the flow of information provided by market exchange; and it was clear at the beginning of the 60s that for the system to move on up to the plenty promised so insanely for 1980, there would have to be informational fixes for each deficiency. Hence the emphasis on cybernetics, which had gone in a handful of years from being condemned as a «bourgeois pseudo-science» to being an official panacea.

The USSR’s pioneering computer scientists were heavily involved, and so was the authentic genius Leonid Kantorovich, nearest Soviet counterpart to John Von Neumann and later to be the only ever Soviet winner of the Nobel prize for economics. Their thinking drew on the uncorrupted traditions of Soviet mathematics. While parts of it merely smuggled elements of rational pricing into the Soviet context, other parts were truly directed at outdoing market processes. The effort failed, of course, for reasons which are an irony-laminated comedy in themselves. The sumps of the command economy were dark and deep and not accessible to academics; Stalinist industrialisation had welded a set of incentives into place which clever software could not touch; the system was administered by rent-seeking gangsters; the mathematicians were relying (at two removes) on conventional neoclassical economics to characterise the market processes they were trying to simulate, and the neoclassicists may just be wrong about how capitalism works.

Vale la pena leer el artículo, y es tentador comprar el libro.

Autor: variacioncompensada

Profesor, CEA-DII, U. de Chile.

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