The Soviet “Transition”, Economic Expertise
In and beyond academia, the Soviet collapse is taken as the culmination, whether triumphal or disastrous, of a global neoliberal turn since the 1960s. Economists are often taken as that epoch’s agents, theorists, or avatars, and the Soviet case seems exemplary: economist Yegor Gaidar was appointed First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation in 1991, and over thirteen months managed the collapse of the Soviet economy into one that was, if not liberal, at least clearly capitalist. But as I will show, Gaidar was no “Chicago [or Harvard] Boy,” as he is often labeled. He was neither a Westernized economist, nor even a mathematical economist; neither a neoliberal, nor even a liberal. Gaidar was a specialist in the accounting practices of socialist enterprises, a young participant in a well-established and highly active world of socialist reform economics. His work in the 1980s progressed from arguments about how best to construct accounting “indicators” for value added to a theory of how to transition the Soviet economy to a self-managed socialism on the Yugoslav or Hungarian models. By the end of the decade, he had developed a new critique of the Soviet economy as in fact no longer centrally planned at all, but rather a sort of bureaucratic morass. Introducing markets would be not the end of socialist planning, but the very possibility of it—a thought which has become unintelligible in liberal terms that equate markets with capitalism. The Soviet collapse was the moment from which neo-liberal Weltgeschichte was retrospectively constructed. But what then happens to this understanding of our epochal location if Gaidar was no neoliberal, and if the Soviet collapse is not best understood as a neoliberal transition?