History Today Subscription Offer

The Soviet Economy – an Experiment that was Bound to Fail?

Vincent Barnett contrasts Marxist idealism with the changing economic reality in the USSR.

The collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (the USSR) at the end of the 1980s marked an inglorious end to the first ever nationwide attempt at the conscious creation of an entirely new economic system that was apparently built on non-capitalist principles of operational control. The existence of the USSR was a defining feature of international relations throughout most of the twentieth century, but it is sometimes forgotten that the real challenge that it represented to the West was first and foremost in the economic realm – as a competitor to capitalism itself. Consequently, this article reviews the most important intellectual origins of the economic system created under the banner of the Communist Party in Soviet Russia after 1917, the first steps in its creation, the hindrances that were encountered and the legacy that remains.

In response to the Soviet collapse, some commentators triumphantly declared that the ‘end of history’ had been reached with the final victory of liberal capitalist democracy. Some others have argued that in fact what the Soviet collapse subsequently produced was a Wild West-style asset grab, resulting in the crowning of a number of Russian robber barons, economic oligarchs who operated with corrupt impunity. Whatever mixture of these interpretations is finally accepted, it is all a very long way from the intellectual origins of the USSR in the environment of mid-nineteenth century Victorian rationalism, when concerns about the backbreaking conditions that the working class had to endure were beginning to be voiced by leading socialist intellectuals in the UK.

The Intellectual Origins of Marxism

To continue reading this article you will need to purchase access to the online archive.

Buy Online Access  Buy Print & Archive Subscription

If you have already purchased access, or are a print & archive subscriber, please ensure you are logged in.

Please email digital@historytoday.com if you have any problems.



Get Miscellanies, our free weekly long read, in your inbox every week