Soviet work safety poster (detail)

The Political Economy of the Soviet Union

Instructor: Olena Lyubchenko
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Soviet nostalgia is on the rise. In explaining its causes, some will point to the Putin regime, which evokes the past in order to legitimize its nationalist pretensions and capitalist economic interests today. But the primary driver of nostalgia across former Soviet republics is popular disillusionment with post-Soviet neoliberalism, infamously instituted via 1990’s “shock therapy,” which has induced a rethinking about the Soviet project, even among young people born after 1989. Massive inequality and recurring social crises in the aftermath of the post-Soviet transition have raised in many minds the following questions: What was different about the Soviet Union, the structure of its state and its economy? What was the relationship between production, distribution, and consumption in the Soviet Union and its structural conditions within global capitalism? How did the Soviet state in some ways fulfill and in other ways betray its promise to workers and why? What, in short, was the political economy of the Soviet Union? 

To answer these fundamental questions, we will examine the relationship between production and social reproduction in the Soviet Union, its distinctiveness within global capitalism, prospects for alternative development and internal systemic contradictions. Instead of regurgitating old ideological debates declaring what the Soviet Union was—whether state socialist or state capitalist (or a secret third thing)—this course will focus on how it worked. We will look at the development of the Soviet enterprise and the function of the wage, role of trade unions, labor market and social policy, legislation, as well as dynamics of international and intra-republic trade, within three key historical moments—the dawn of the Soviet Union or the immediate post-Revolutionary years rooted in Revolutionary Legality, primitive ‘socialist’ accumulation of the First Five-Year Plan, and the post-war Soviet consumerism. Starting in the late 1960s, the Soviet Union faced a significant crisis. While the crisis of the Soviet project has been interpreted in terms of representation, national identity, and individual freedoms, we will trace its causes to the political economy of global capitalism. In addition to key Soviet policy and legal documents, we will read excerpts from Alexandra Kollontai, Rosa Luxemburg, Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Evgeniy Preobrazhensky, Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev, texts by Simon Clarke, Michael Lebowitz, Boris Kagarlitsky, Samir Amin, Alexander Gerschenkron, as well as emerging research by Ekaterina Pravilova, Oscar Sanchez-Sibony, Fritz Bartel, Xenia Cherkaev, and Keti Chukhrov.  

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
November 13 — December 11, 2023
4 sessions over 5 weeks
Class will not meet Monday, November 27th.


Registration Open