This early 1980’s BBC documentary on the successes and failure’s of the Soviet economic system presents a remarkably balanced view of the history of the USSR’s planned economy. There really were successes, and there really did seem to be an underlying absurdity which undermined them. Significantly, the USSR raised itself out of the destruction of the second world war faster than Capitalist economies – ending rationing six years before England (and without Marshall Plan money at that).
The documentary is especially good because it isolates rationlization for rationlization’s own sake to be the centre of the absurdity, and clearly differentiates between Marx’s and Lenin’s view of using technology for the sake of society, and Stalin’s and the technocrats view of reducing society itself to a part of a larger machine, as the crucial failure of rationality in the USSR’s project of building a state “for the people”.
The absurdity of “reason for reason’s sake” might be especially important in our time, where the future appears to hold the rationalization of our economy by technocratic control over taxation as incentive producing for the sake of eliminating costly externalities. While the motivation behind carbon taxes is without question to do good, we must keep in mind the purpose of these incentive structures is for the sake of society, and society does not exist simply so it can be orderd and secured by better technological rationality.