A masterful account of the global Cold War’s decisive influence on Soviet economic reform, and the national decay that followed.
What brought down the Soviet Union? From some perspectives the answers seem obvious, even teleological—communism was simply destined to fail. When Yakov Feygin studied the question, he came to another conclusion: at least one crucial factor was a deep contradiction within the Soviet political economy brought about by the country’s attempt to transition from Stalinist mass mobilization to a consumer society.
Building a Ruin explores what happened in the Soviet Union as institutions designed for warfighting capacity and maximum heavy industrial output were reimagined by a new breed of reformers focused on “peaceful socioeconomic competition.” From Khrushchev on, influential schools of Soviet planning measured Cold War success in the same terms as their Western rivals: productivity, growth, and the availability of abundant and varied consumer goods. The shift was both material and intellectual, with reformers taking a novel approach to economics. Instead of trumpeting their ideological bona fides and leveraging their connections with party leaders, the new economists stressed technical expertise. The result was a long and taxing struggle for the meaning of communism itself, as old-guard management cadres clashed with reformers over the future of central planning and the state’s relationship to the global economic order.
Feygin argues that Soviet policymakers never resolved these tensions, leading to stagnation, instability, and eventually collapse. Yet the legacy of reform lingers, its factional dynamics haunting contemporary Russian politics.
A first-rate analysis of the pitfalls of the high-savings, high-investment development model. Far from applying just to the USSR, Feygin’s intriguing book is full of lessons for development economists in general, especially those focusing on the Chinese economy.
Deeply researched, original, and illuminating. Feygin’s sophisticated account of the political origins of Soviet economic thought overturns the conventional argument that Soviet economic reforms foundered against the resistance of self-interested bureaucrats. Building a Ruin is important for understanding not only the Soviet economy, but also the broader history of the late twentieth century.
A fascinating book. Feygin offers a fresh take on the structural problems and political constraints that faced Soviet economists and politicians in the Cold War era. Despite the economists’ cutting-edge ideas, the government’s insistence on political stability over economic reform ultimately led to the collapse of the Soviet system.
A profound reinterpretation of the politics that shaped Soviet economic policy. Driven by deep archival research and close reading of Soviet economic decision making, Building a Ruin transforms our understanding of key turning points in Soviet economic history, from the failed Kosygin reforms to the chaotic policies of perestroika. It also provides new insight into the complex economic inheritance the Soviet Union bequeathed to post-Soviet Russia. A landmark in the field of Soviet economic history, this book will be required reading for many years to come.
Although both are in some sense exemplars of central planning, the value chain orchestrated by Apple Inc. today is more productive and infinitely more efficient than the economy of the Soviet Union, even in its heyday. Yakov Feygin tells us how, and why.
- 288 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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