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Yanks for Stalin
Interview Transcript

Stephen Kotkin    (cont)


Q. This is a good time to talk about whether or not, the (mumble) question, whether or not there is premeditation involved.  You might talk about that.

A.   When you review the Soviet archives, including the more secret archives, to see the extent of  premeditation and planning, the extent of which they unfolded their aims over a course of time, knowing what they were doing, you are a little bit surprised. On the one hand, the overall context is clear, that is to say, Capitalism is markets and private property, Socialism will be planning and social property, or collective property which is in effect state property.  The commitment to these general principles is clear.  Within that, there is tremendous improvisation so that any given decision looks motivated mostly by political intrigue, mostly by spur of the moment crisis management, without necessarily a long term vision, without in malcavillian manipulation as they are going through it decision by decision.  Now, this doesn't mean that everything is accidental.  The idea that Capitalists could be ripped off if necessary was a postulate of most people who worked in the Soviet government and in the planning ministry.  Afterall, the goal was to beat Capitalist at their own game, to catch them and overcome them, to transcend them and destroy them.  If you use Capitalist hands in the process, you were even more clever than the Capitalist, but the idea that you were with the Capitalists in some type of bargain, where each had rights, was not something shared by most of the people in the Soviet planning agencies or in the government.  So, you see the improvisation and you see the manipulation and it is based on certain postulates which are universally recognized by the Soviet side, but, the idea that they knew what they were doing from the start, that they set the Capitalists up, that they were going to use their technology and them kick them out having paid for only partially, this is something they discovered along the way and not something that they foresaw several years down the line.  Moreover, there were divisions within the Soviet bureaucracy and there were divisions with how to handle the Capitalists and some of the Soviet personnel felt that they were in fact beholden to the Capitalists in certain ways and that they did have to uphold certain bargains. Not because they  necessarily valued the Capitalists as people or valued the Capitalists in what they were doing, but because they felt that for further collaboration in the future it was necessary to be more cooperative in the present.  So, there were arguments inside the Soviet bureaucracy among people who are in positions of implementing these decisions over how to (mumble) these Capitalists, in an instrumental way, not necessarily arguments over principle.  The Capitalists themselves, by the way, in their own documents come through as aware of precisely what they are getting into, aware of the difficulties of dealing with the Soviet bureaucracy, aware of the fact that they are not always going to be fully paid. Therefore, the Capitalists when they complain later on, that they are shocked, that they are surprised, that this was manipulation to fool them, that the Soviets are violating the contracts all of these kinds of claims by the Capitalists were discussed in anticipation of these kinds of problems as they were getting involved in it.  These are not foolish people.  These are not inexperienced or naive people.  These are businessmen, some of whom have had lots of experience abroad in other countries and not to mention what happened in their own country.

Q. While we are on the subject, we can go ahead and cover, tell me about, I was interested in this steel ball situation.  Tell me about it.

A. Yes. These are very experienced steel ball executives and engineers from American and especially German companies and despite all the differences, they are much closer to the leather jacketed, leather booted Bolsheviks than you might expect. Especially, in terms of their cynicism and their willingness to do anything to get the job done, in their expectations of difficulties and problems and their use of intimidation for whatever methods are necessary to reach their aims.  This is not to say that are equivalent groups, but, that the fact that they work together is perhaps less surprising than if you would look only at their political differences between them.  In the Soviet Union, the industrialization of the 1930's is paradoxical.  In many ways, it is an enormous success. Thousands of companies come on line, their ability to produce industrial goods as inputs for other industrial goods is greatly advanced.  On the other hand, the costs are tremendous.  The social costs, the economic costs, moreover, the way it works in practice is very inefficient, very disorganized.  So, what you get is a model of forced draft industrialization which produces many , many goods low quality, big batch goods which are useful for making the kinds of industrial products necessary to fight war and to build modern cities, but, the costs are so great that you wonder in the end whether the word success applies to it or not.  Having said that, you must admire the ability of the Soviets to buy, borrow, reproduce and, or, steal the technology, the know how and the industrial organization  and use it for its own purposes. In other words,  it is one thing to say you are going to acquire it, it is another to be able to use it and to make something of it.  They are very successful at that.  By the middle of W.W.II  the Soviets are producing tanks which are as good as, if not better than German tanks.  This is true of mortars, this is true of other kinds of weapons. Now, some of this kind of technology has come from American and German firms, but, the idea that the Soviets could make use of it, reproduce it, in some cases improve on it and organize mass production with it in order to fight the war is very important.  That is not to say that the methods they use can be justified. 

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