The strange, sad, hilarious story of the Soviet Union’s blind pursuit of a Communist paradise, told through a mix of history and fiction, using both to get to the truth.
Spufford (I May Be Some Time, 2003, etc.) traces the latter half of the history of the Soviet Union, starting in the late 1950s, when the Soviets were seeing an imaginary light over the horizon. After 40 years that included struggle, war, starvation and Stalin, the Marxist dream looked as if it might be taking off under Nikita Khrushchev. The Soviet Union’s economic growth more than doubled that of the United States, and if it kept going at the same rate, the “planned economy” would “overtake and surpass” capitalist America. Cars, food and houses would be better, and there would be more money and leisure all around, thanks to a top-down, start-to-finish management that “could be directed, as capitalism could not, to the fastest, most lavish fulfillment of human needs.” Through a series of episodes involving economists, scientists, computer programmers, industrialists, artists and politicians—some real, some imagined, some drawn together from composites—Spufford tells the story of the life and death of a national illusion, as Utopian dreams moldered into grim dystopian realities. The planned economy was a worker’s nightmare, where production targets increased even as equipment became more and more outdated, and unforeseen, unplanned events—like the sudden loss of a spinning machine at a textile factory—set off a ripple effect of unproductiveness. Pay cuts and scarce commodities led to riots, such as one in Novocherkassk, where the dead bodies were hauled out and the bloody streets were repaved overnight. In his often-whimsical, somewhat Nabokov-ian notes, Spufford freely points out his own inventions, approximations and hedged bets on what might have happened.
A highly creative, illuminating, genre-resisting history.