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Mikhail Gorbachev (centre) is sworn in as President of the USSR, March 15, 1990. The Party Congress later that year was to be the last (photo: Vitaly Armand/AFP/Getty Images)

From its very beginning there were many people who could not believe that the Soviet Union would last as long as it did. The Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises predicted the demise of the USSR in the first edition of his work on socialism published in 1922, the year the Soviet Union was born. He maintained there, and on every possible occasion afterwards until his death half a century later, that a planned economy was “planned chaos” that was bound to be inefficient. Another great Austrian economist, Friedrich Hayek, did not think much of socialism either. In The Road to Serfdom, his most famous work on political science, published in 1944, he made it clear that for freedom to flourish, socialism had to perish.

In John Maynard Keynes’s book Essays on Persuasion there is an article about Russia written in 1925 shortly after he attended a conference in Leningrad. In it he maintained that “Russia will never matter seriously to the rest of us, unless it be as a moral force,” and continued: “If Communism achieves a certain success, it will achieve it, not as an improved economic technique, but as a religion.” He finished the essay with a comment that could be interpreted as not entirely pessimistic: “Out of the cruelty and stupidity of Old Russia nothing could ever emerge, but that beneath the cruelty and stupidity of New Russia some speck of the ideal may lie hid.”

There is no doubt that lots of people were expecting the collapse of the Soviet Union. There were dreamers among them like Andrei Amalrik, who based his prediction on his observations of Soviet society and the external threat from China. In his 1970 book he asked the question: Will the Soviet Union survive until 1984? His observations were good but his predictions precipitate. There were many other forecasts. In a Wikipedia article entitled “Predictions of the dissolution of the Soviet Union”, as many as 31 names are listed, although some of them are politicians who are in the habit of making off-the-cuff statements that might be regarded in the fullness of time as valid predictions.

To our mind the best prediction not included in the Wikipedia list wasmade by O.L. Smaryl (an anagram of L. Solymar, one of the present authors) in a 1984 article published in Survey, “New Technology and the Soviet Predicament”. Smaryl was no expert on Soviet economics. He was a natural scientist who often visited laboratories in the Soviet Union. By 1983 he could see how poorly equipped they were. He also saw how jealously the Soviet authorities guarded their monopoly of information.

In Kiev, for example, if a laboratory wanted to copy a Western scientific article they had to send it to some central office where the article was copied and sent back. Everybody knew that a computer could store information, hence it was a dangerous piece of equipment. Smaryl wrote:

A properly coded computer, aided and abetted by a printer, could appear to any KGB investigator as poised to print the collected works of V. I. Lenin, whereas as soon as the agent is out of sight it could churn out the latest news broadcast of the BBC or the last seven editions of a popular samizdat paper.

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wettsteina
October 1st, 2015
8:10 PM
I started this article in good faith, eager to read something by someone with inside knowledge of Eastern Europe. But it just got crazier and crazier as I read on. Is this article a joke or a parody. Does any sane or knowledgeable person believe that between now and, say, November 2016 Russia will be able to conquer southern Ukraine? Or that it will soon conquer the Baltic states? I mean, Russia couldn't even conquer southern Ukraine in the spring and summer of 2014 -- and that's when Ukraine had no real army. It's army is magnitudes more formidable and better-equipped now. And Latvia is going to willingly decide to become part of Russia? A weak Russia is going to somehow magically acquired the strength to "restore the Soviet borders"? Since when is Ukraine a "failed state"? Have you ever been there or read anything of the place? It's a trouble, corrupt state, but it's nowhere near being "failed." I've lived there as a Westerner for much of the last 12 years in perfect peace and safety. I could go on, but this article is not worth it. Suffice to say that this article is ridiculous. Is this where Standpoint is?

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