Historians believe that communism in the Soviet Union failed because it offered little incentive for individual initiative and innovation.How is it, then, that the Soviet Union was able to...

Historians believe that communism in the Soviet Union failed because it offered little incentive for individual initiative and innovation.

How is it, then, that the Soviet Union was able to successfully engineer the first Sputnik, launch a man into space for the first time ever, and manufacture tons and tons of nuclear missiles?

That seems like a lot of technological feats for a country devoid of individual initiative and the incentive for innovation that comes with capitalism?

How, then, does one reconcile the view about communism described above with the many achievements of the USSR under a communist regime?

Please be as specific as possible in your response.  In addition, because this question is particularly fascinating to me both as a student of history and as a person with Russian roots, I ask you for the additional favor of e-mailing this page to all your friends, be they history buffs, immigrants from the former Soviet Union, or just smart people with a perspicacous view on the ways of the world.


Thank you all.

Expert Answers
Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Certainly, the lack of individual recognition could be one reason why the Soviet Union ended up failing in its political experiment.  Yet, this had always been present in the system for some time and it only failed towards the end of the 1980s.  I would argue that one of the major reasons the Soviet Union failed was because it could no longer keep the pace of military escalation.  The United States of the 1980s was a consumer society that was generating money at quite a rapid pace.  The economic boom of the time period helped to generate much more money in defense.  Capitalism and the generating of profit was a reason for this. The deregulation in the 1980s and the "trickle down" component of economic success helped to drive military spending to a very high level.  Simply put, this priced out the Soviets and they had little else to do but to cave in as the United States posed a greater and more sizable entity with the escalation of the military.  I would say that this could count as one major reason why the experiment ended up failing when it did.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with you that the Soviet Union was able to achieve some notable accomplishments like the one (because really all of those are only one thing) you mention.  However, this does not mean that the basic point is not correct.

The USSR's accomplishments were only in areas that the government decided would be important.  The government paid the scientists well and gave them the incentive to come up with good ideas.  Even then, they did not manage to achieve advances in many creative areas of science and technology.  They did not manage much miniaturization of technology.  They did not do much with computers.

Just as importantly, the USSR offered no incentives for initiative and innovation in consumer goods.  This is what was really important.  The people of Russia did not like having such a lower standard of living than people in the West.  They did not like having to wait for years to get an apartment or car.  This kind of thing was much more important to people than missiles.

brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Well, we're talking a bout a completely state-directed and managed economy.  Where science and technology is concerned, this needs funding, and in the absence of private investment like was true in the Soviet Union, the government is in charge of all research and development.  So where else were the best and brightest to work?  What other projects could they choose to work on?  Plus, whatever its failings, the Soviets had a superb education system for science and mathematics.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
Communist governments do make progress. Whether or not they make progress, and how much progress they make, depends entirely on what the government wants. That's what makes if communism. So if the Soviet Union believed that those particular technologies were important, all efforts would have gone to them. That does not mean the USSR did not fail. After all, putting a man in orbit does not put food on the table.
pjarmstr | Student

"Historians believe that communism in the Soviet Union failed because it offered little incentive for individual initiative and innovation."

That is only part of the reason why the USSR failed; although it is an important part.  The main reason is that a "command economy" such as that established in a communist society, can not provide for its people.

In such an economy, the leaders decide what products their country will produce.  They come up with "Five Year Plans" or, as in China, a "Great Leap Forward".

However, no politician, or even economist, can predict what the people will need, or want to buy.  Nor can they force people to buy the inferior products made by a communist workforce.  Thus these communist economies make products that no one wants to buy.  In their belief that they can create a more ordered economy by controlling it; they create disordered economy.

If you are aware of life in Communist Russia, you know that the average person spent much of his time standing in lines at various stores, because most of the time a store's shelves were empty (due to the "Central Planning").  Then, when the store finally received some supplies, everyone would stop what they were doing and make sure they got in line to get whatever it was, because once it ran out, who knew when there would be any more in the store?  Today the bread store might have bread.  Next week the shoe store might get a shipment of shoes.  Etc. Etc.  That's how the average Russian spent his days.

So, how did Russians get what they needed?  Through the Black Market.

The Government spent a great percentage of  its money on the military and its cosmonaut program, so it appeared to be an advanced nation, but in reality, with each passing decade, it was literally eating itself alive from the inside out, so that by the 1980s all that was left was a shell.

mikebav53 | Student

Quick note:

Sorry, of course, I misspelled "perspicacious." 

There should be an "i" before the "o."