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Metastatic communism: Soviet models of the political economy of the post-Stalinist Soviet Union

Sat, September 2, 4:00 to 5:30pm, Sheraton Boston, Floor: 3, Dalton


Economist Yurii Yaremenko was obsessed with data. His colleagues recount how he spent all his days in the Lenin Library reading obscure trade periodicals to glean any and all information about the productive forces of the Soviet Union. He was second in command for the team coordinating the “Complex Program for Scientific-Technical Progress,” an encyclopedic twenty year forecast for the highest leadership. The first of four editions of the forecast was published in 1973, and the last in 1988, as the Union was beginning to unravel. In post-Soviet Russia, the past of Soviet technology has become an affectively charged resource for registering dissatisfaction with the present. In this paper, I unpack the future of that past as Yaremenko figured it in his unorthodox modeling practices. Yaremenko constructed an unorthodox variant of a standard Leontiev model order to reconstruct the unseen political forces driving the evolution of the Soviet economy. Based on this model, he told a gloomy story of the decay of central coordinating authority and the emergence of metastasizing independent industrial fiefdoms. He saw a future in which, if political control could not be reasserted, aging industries would ceaselessly reproduce the past, crowding out any chance of modernization in the present, and thus of realizing communist futures. Word of his reports spread throughout the Soviet technocracy and higher Party elite, stimulating spasmodic attempts at reform, and culminating in Gorbachev’s perestroika. Fears of the Soviet Union’s collapse may thus in fact have hastened it. How did political economy appear through prism of equations modeling resource flows between industries? How was the late Soviet present re-imagined and subjected to critique from the standpoint of the future? How was “technology” made to bear the weight of materializing that future? This paper explicates these questions through Yaremenko’s modeling practice.