Friday, September 21, 2018

Communist murder, capitalist suicide

“National Suicide” is a book by libertarian-conservative conspiracy theorist Anthony Sutton. His three-volume study “Western Technology and Soviet Economic Development” (published by Stanford) is extremely useful, while some of his other studies struck me as too conspiracist and sloppy. This one, published in 1973, seems to be a summary of “Western Technology”, with some material brought up to date. Sutton makes two interconnected points. First, he argues that essentially *all* Soviet technology is really Western. Technological innovation pretty much ceased in Russia after the Bolshevik revolution. Instead, imported or stolen Western technology is used. During some periods, such as Stalin's first two five-year plans, Western firms (US and German in particular) literally *built* industrial facilities in the Soviet Union, often with Western engineers and sometimes even with Western workers. This trend continued after World War II. Thus, most of the Soviet merchant fleet was built abroad. Even Soviet-built vessels often had foreign-built engines. Many “Communist” designs from Czechoslovakia or East Germany were really “capitalist”, since they were from before the Soviet domination of those countries. Sutton also argues that the much-hailed Soviet space program is to a large extent a propagandistic fraud. Sputnik was powered by rockets based on German models, built by captured German scientists. The Soviet space program “froze” when the German rocket scientists were allowed to leave.

These are interesting points, and quite damning to those Marxists who claim that the Soviet Union “developed the productive forces” faster or more efficiently than Western capitalism (or at least faster than Czarist Russia would have done). This argument is popular even among Trotskyists (who presumably oppose Cain-Stalin), who argues that a “worker-run” planned economy would therefore be even more efficient than the Stalinist one. There are still people who quite un-ironically argue in favor of these points. Sutton disproves them, and he disproves them hard.

Second, Sutton makes the more sensational point that the Soviet Union was arming its allies with Western-derived technology, despite the supposed Cold War embargo against military-related trade with the Soviets. This is what he refers to as “national suicide”. Since the Soviet military-industrial complex was an integrated part of the socialist economy, “non-military” exports (such as chemical compounds) to the Soviet Union were inevitably be used for military purposes (such as ammunition). The “peaceful” Soviet merchant fleet was used to supply North Vietnam with military equipment. As already noted, most Soviet merchant ships were built outside the Soviet Union and/or had “capitalist” engines. Thus, American soldiers in Korea and Vietnam were effectively killed by Western technology in Communist hands. Some facts unearthed by Sutton border the tragic-comical. Thus, the Soviet ships which brought missiles to Cuba were built in Denmark, a member of NATO! The ships that brought the missiles back after the Cuban crisis had been resolved were built in Communist Poland, but had engines built by Fiat in Italy, another NATO member…

In a final chapter, Sutton discusses possible reasons for the “national suicide” policy: naivety, sheer pragmatism of a political and/or economic nature, a foreign policy based on “mysticism” and “altruism” (I think the author means Communist infiltration), or a grand “statist” conspiracy of bankers and socialists. He seems to favor the last option, and actually mentions “None Dare Call it Conspiracy”, the John Birch Society classic. In my opinion, the cooperation between the United States and Stalin's Soviet Union (until circa 1948) has pragmatic explanations, including long-term Realpolitik or geopolitics. Sutton at one point mentions a top secret intelligence exchange program between Stalin's regime and the Roosevelt administration in 1938, known only by four people on each side. He waxes indignant over a secret file claiming that the US and the USSR have common long-term objectives, but it's obvious from context that they really did – the point of the agreement was to stop Japanese expansion in the Far East and Pacific regions. During World War II, there was a very obvious reason for Soviet-US collaboration, but I assume Sutton is an isolationist and therefore doesn't give a damn.

The Cold War “collusion” is perhaps more difficult to explain without a conspiracy theory (there are de facto conspiracy theories about it among some anti-Stalinist leftists, too), but why can't it simply be a matter of capitalist pragmatism? During the crusades, Venice and other Italian merchant republics traded goods with the Muslims (including a certain Saladin), who used imported timber to build a war fleet, and imported iron to make swords. Thus, the crusaders were defeated by Western-derived technology. Yet, it's difficult to see any other “conspiracy” here than the good ol' profit motive, something a libertarian like Sutton can't really argue against…

I think Anthony Sutton's problem isn't just Communism. It's also really existing capitalism.

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