(edit) Reading other comments - I should clarify that what I said relates to the 1970+ period, not the earlier years.
I still have family who remember Stalin's purges, starvation and WW2. The same people say life in the USSR was only reasonable under the later leaders like Brezhnev. Nobody likes Gorbachev, but they would be first to admit that the differences in their lives in the 1940s and 1980s were vast.
As recently as 2009, 60% of Russians preferred the Soviet days (with older citizens that number is as high as 80%). And even for eastern bloc states like the Ukraine, 46% of the population regrets the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
That matters in Russia worsened after the fall of Communism is separated by decades from the nadir of Stalinist violence.
So it depends on how you count (is famine murder?), but the number intentionally killed by Stalin is much closer to 6 million. And again, this was not primarily a worker phenomenon, but was centered more towards specific peasant classes ("kulaks") and nationalist separatist movements (particularly in the Ukraine). It was also something that wasn't totally known, until Khrushchev's "revelations" (which were also largely dishonest themselves).
Since you're comparing me to a Holocaust Denier, I'll refer you to Timothy Snyder (a member of the Committee on Conscience of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and a history professor at Yale)'s article which summarizes a lot of the current thinking:
But again, I think what's perhaps most important, was that at the height of the purges, from 1934 to 1936, the absolute most dangerous place to be was in the central committee. During that period, 80% of the central committee members were killed. That's significant because the Stalinist nightmare is often explained as a willingness to sacrifice living humans for ideology, which I think is much too simple. It wasn't the obvious power relationship seen in Facism throughout that period of an elite group killing a subservient population, but of those in power actually killing each-other.
It's like saying 'the most dangerous (deadly)' place in a prison is the execution room on execution day. For most of the population the most dangerous place was elsewhere.
> As recently as 2009, 60% of Russians preferred the Soviet days
Nostalgia is distorting and dangerous. It's like Western baby boomers who think wistfully about the old days. There was more pollution, there was more disease, there was less questioning of authority, there was more injustice, there was more impending doom. Another analogy is how some people sometimes perceive past relationships (ie. none of the troubles).
That's one explanation. Another is that things didn't actually change the way people wanted them to. Where as Perestroika was supposed to be a transition from authoritarian communism to democratic communism, the dissolution of the Soviet Union resulted in a transition from authoritarian communism to authoritarian capitalism.
State industries were basically given away to a small oligarchy through the "loans for shares" program, which resulted in a virtually identical experience for the average Russian, only without the nice state provided pension and benefits.
Russia also has an enormous rural population, which was celebrated and idolized through Soviet ideology. The transition to authoritarian capitalism was accompanied by a cultural shift that portrays rural Russia as being composed of stupid poor people.
The result is a lot of unhappy people.
Many people didn't even really believe that the West Germans had ideals much different from theirs: they thought the idea that Wessis were really "capitalists" was Soviet propaganda trying to scare them away from reunification, and assumed West Germany was probably, in reality, just full of sensible social democrats. So it was a rude shock when they found out that Frankfurt bankers were more like American bankers than like Swedish social democrats.
The end result can be seen pretty clearly in the map of Left Party election figures: http://welections.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/germany-2009-d...
It's interesting to see the contrast btwn the Soviet transition and the Chinese transitions away from core communism -forgetting that the SU had numerous other things to contend with (viz the delayed collapse of their late colonialist empire --the 'republics').
While the Chinese have moved away from the state as a direct employer and divested their enterprises and have moved away from providing pensions and benefits, the economic growth caused by their policies made those things a non-issue. That is, while the state retreated (and thus provided the same nothing to people) The SEZs and then then state-turned private and new private enterprise filled the void granting people hope and a vision of a future. People felt (and still feel, altho it might be on the descent) that if not they, their heirs have a chance at the future which they did not. On the other hand China is relatively natural resource poor and Russia is NR rich.
It would seem the transition was handled better by China than their fraternal twin, the SU. The unhurried transition probably helped, as well as culture (a Chinese family is willing to sacrifice a generation, if it has a promise of hope for the next -long view).
That was primarily because the previous regime was terribly bad, not because the new one was terribly good.
"On 8 January 1939, the government made clear that an unauthorized lateness of 20 minutes (or taking a break 20 minutes too long, or leaving 20 minutes early) counted as absenteeism, grounds for mandatory dismissal (Pravda, 9 Jan 1939). Transportation breakdowns (a common event) were no excuse; a doctor's certificate was required, and doctors who gave certificates too easily themselves faced prosecution and prison.
Some workers still found it worthwhile to be absent and force a mandatory dismissal, so that they could seek work in a place where labor books were not closely read. Stalin put an end to this with a remarkable law,
Decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, 26 June 1940
"On the Transfer to the Eight-Hour Working Day, the Seven-day Work Week, and on the Prohibition of Unauthorized Departure by Laborers and Office Workers from Factories and Offices2"
This replaced the civil sanctions of the 28 Dec. 1938 decree with mandatory criminal penalties: 2-4 months imprisonment for quitting a job, and 6 months of probation and 25% pay confiscation for an unauthorized tardiness of 20 minutes. Both managers and prosecutors were themselves subject to criminal prosecution if they did not enforce this law strictly."
Russian - http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/%D0%92%D0%BE%D0%B5%D0%BD%D0%BD%...
I think there is overall (including today) some pretty strong internal difficulty when claiming to "gamify" work but still retaining the context of a hierarchically controlled workplace where work is mandatory, with penalties tied to the "game". Then it devolves into just another method of workplace accounting & control.
It's just to me - discussing Soviet attempts at gamification without mentioning things like the law I described or placement of peasants back into serfdom (after they had been granted freedom 60 years earlier) is akin to discussing whether Nazi train schedules were effective.
Honestly, that sounds like a great HN article.
As a side node gamification drives me mad. IMHO only an idiot would care about made up "achievements".
Part of my argument, though I make it more clearly in an expanded, short-paper version of this essay , is that the "gamification" part devolved into just regular old Stalinist command-and-control: production quotas and such, with a thin facade of worker autonomy and "voluntary" competition spread across it. That's one of the things people worry about with modern gamification as well, that a "game" that's a mandatory part of your job is not really much of a game, and more like old-fashioned, top-down control than the gamification consultants' uplifting rhetoric would like you to believe (e.g. http://articles.latimes.com/2011/oct/19/local/la-me-1019-lop...).
Nice article BTW ;)
Considering how token economies  are generally successful as motivators (HN karma, anyone?) I'd say this has less to do with idiocy and more with the "human nature".
BTW, if anyone wants a good, quick introduction to the criticism of gamification I can recommend the Errant Signal video on the subject .
Napoleon said about military medals: "With such baubles, men are led." And yet, even in this forum, you will probably find some people eager to explain how that's not the same at all.
In designing any system of incentives you have to figure in, or be fortunate to get right, how irrational people are about incentives. The market is a darwinian engine for optimizing irrational responses. Sometimes that's brilliant, and sometimes it isn't.
Idiots make an overwhelming majority of population.
One ought to realize how different SU was in 20s, 50s, even 70s from Russia today. People in SU thought about themselves and their country very similarly as it is in US now - the most progressive country, and of course, the smartest and overall best people. Little doubt about that. Tokens were much more serious then - in US one says "if you smart, you should be rich", in SU it was "if you're good, you can perhaps show an Order" - and they weren't easy to get.
Imagine the life in the South, pictured in "Gone with the wind", without slavery - because almost everybody was in the same conditions - and stimulus responses will be different. Again, what use would be for a pile of cash in SU? Not much - you can't buy proportionally, since the whole economy is targeted to "regular people", and you'd get people looking at you funny pretty soon.
Gamification doesn't work unless it actually means something.
I agree with you. The country went from a civil war and foreign invasion (including by the US, something I'm sure 99% of Americans don't even know) and then 25 years later were invaded by an alliance of Germany, Finland, Italy, Hungary and other countries. Followed by a Cold War against a nuclear armed opponent and its western European allies.
Yet during the 1930s, when starving veterans were being shot dead in the streets of Washington DC, when unemployment in the US and Europe was over 20%, the Soviet economy was booming. Massive steel factories were erected in places such as Magnitogorsk, and factories building tractors to send to industrialize agriculture. The US said Russia stole all technology from the US - until Russia launched Sputnik. You can't blame the adversary for stealing IP when they're doing things you can't do.
China also was a rural backwater, dominated by Europeans and Japanese until the 20th century. Under the leadership of the politburo of the communist party, its economy has been growing 10% a year since the early 1980s. People say that is unsustainable, but they've been saying that since the late 1980s. I'm sure their growth will slow down eventually, but they're already the second largest economy in the world by GDP. Of course, the politburo is not as left wing as it was during the height of the Cultural Revolution.
The USSR economy did stagnate when Stalin died, and people like Molotov were sidelined. Capital spending decreased, policies like detente were enacted, and the economy stagnated. The economy did very well before this change in policy though. American and European workers and firms went to the USSR in the 1920s because there was work and contracts in their growing economy, while the US economy went off the hinges. Kind of like the current US unemployment rate which is higher than anything since the mid-1980s.
> Yet during the 1930s, when starving veterans were being shot dead in the streets of Washington DC, when unemployment in the US and Europe was over 20%, the Soviet economy was booming.
Oh yes. The US and Europe credited the Soviet Union well, and the Soviet Union paid in gold.
At the same time, Soviet authorities robbed its own people, partly by putting hundreds of thousands to forced labor camps, partly by just taking away their possessions. The great hunger of 1935, with massive human casualties, has happened because grain was expropriated from peasants to be sold for gold, and the gold was spent to build massive steel factories and weaponry plants, using American and German expertise.
With regard to shooting people dead, USSR was not shy of action at all. Massive death sentences in 1935-1939 witch hunt campaign plus cruel oppression of several riots against expropriations and hunger account for hundreds of thousands of deaths.
(If you can't look this up in Wikipedia yourself, I'll gladly help you.)
Trust me, this is not a model of growth you'd enjoy.
Regarding gamification — yes, that was one of brighter ideas. Too bad that real competition was often replaced by a fake that made bosses happy, using massive falsification of results.
You want a competition between producers? Have you tried the so-called 'market'?
> You want a competition between producers? Have you tried the so-called 'market'?
Market is nice when you have many producers. But as soon as company became 'too big to fail' competition disappearing.
I still think that cutting wood or digging ore in Siberia (see e.g. the weather in the fine city of Norilsk) is noticeably more cruel than serving time in a US prison. A quick googling allows me to assume that forced labor as a punishment has not been used in the US since 1940s, except for rare cases in the military.
I very much hope the the US government, however crooked it might be, is not considering high incarceration level as an engine of economic growth.
I think 30 years lag is not soo bad considering level of social-economic development of USSR and USA.
It might not be "punative" penal labor, which takes it out of the category of "forced labor." But US prisoners do labor in private prisons for private companies, with the sole remuneration of reducing time from their sentences.
But this isn't my point. Of course conditions in prison in modern US is better then in USSR 80 years ago. My point that you have higher probability go to jail in modern US then in USSR in thirtieth. Target for great terror in USSR was elite and it was insignificant (again, lesser then in modern US) for ordinary people.
Lets take a claim "a random chance could land you in jail". I've seen numbers that percent miscarriage of justice in US is about 5-10% (not sure it's correct, but anyway even for death penalty there are many mistakes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wrongful_execution). So for modern US 0.05% (about 160000 people) are in jail by random chance. I don't have numbers of USSR and, again, I am not trying to compare. I show that you should be very careful when using simple claims without numbers.
Or let take "simple political joke". Do you know that in many modern countries you can go to jail for ten years just for telling something that is not accepted by mainstream (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laws_against_Holocaust_denial#A...)? Again it's incorrect to compare. but I think raw numbers people in prison is quite accurate and objective estimate of "badness" of system. And for USSR in thirtieth numbers doesn't look very terrible.
For the corporate press and standard line, whatever the USSR did was wrong. If its economy grew it was cruel. If it devoted capital toward consumer goods and eased up on production demands, it was a stagnating economy proving socialism doesn't work. Any choice they make is called wrong, no matter which choice they make.
Slavery was abolished in the US in 1865, and in Russia, in 1861, so they had uniquely close positions in this regard. By 1980s, the difference between USA and USSR was far more pronounced, and not in favor of USSR. Maybe the American way was less perilous.
But looking at the American problems of today (the list is long and grave) I can only conclude that there's no silver bullet. We humans are not ideal, you know. OTOH they say that creation of Eden on Earth is a futile task, and we're in a business of keeping Earth from becoming Hell. With this regard, the Soviet way seems clearly inferior.
But if anybody wants to understand that Stalin's USSR was pretty much a mirror image of Nazi Germany (they were evil to same degree - Stalin actually pulled genocide on Ukrainians before Hitler did it to the Jews), please make sure to read this book:
My (limited) understanding is that Sputnik was launched by a rocket designed in Nazi Germany and copied with minimal modifications.
I'd say the outsourcing craze we see in the recent years is very similar to the transfer of factories and technologies to USSR and Germany in the period 1929-1939.
R-1 was the Russian name for the German V-2, Sputnik was launched by R-7.