If communism is so bad, then how come the USSR was able to increase industry to match or beat that of the Western powers?

…excerpted from an answer on Quora….

We might want to distinguish ‘communism’ from ‘Communism.’ That latter is sort of trade-marked (‘“anti-trade” marked’?) by the political implementers of the Marxian paradigm.

Karl Marx, you may remember, prophesied a classless, stateless future of communism, share and share alike, and all that. He was quite vague on how it would work out. But he did think the capitalists first had to be expropriated by the workers, and the economy run by ‘a dictatorship of the proletariat.’ This gave the Bolsheviks and their later imitators an excuse to set up state socialism, where the Communist Party runs the unitary state which in turn runs everything else. It is ‘communist’ only by an association of ideas and by tradition. But no utopian-minded communist in her right mind wanted that.

Besides, as others have noted, a moneyless industrial society didn’t work. So the Bolsheviks quickly backpedaled, adding markets back in under the New Economic Policy. As Michael Polanyi and others have shown, the Soviet Union engaged in a lot of fakery to make their central planning seem to work.

Ludwig von Mises explained why it couldn’t work. Capitalism is mass production for the masses. Market societies use dispersed knowledge gleaned especially from private markets in production goods and the firms that make up the productive sector to distribute resources to their most valued uses. Without private property and real market signals, socialists find themselves in a sea of arbitrary decisions, without guide. The Soviets never succeeded much in mass production for the masses, but by hook and crook and a rigid class system, the USSR succeeded in making hydrogen bombs and rockets for a pretty good space program (it helped that they were willing to risk cosmonauts’ lives to an extent NASA never found acceptable). But that isn’t mass production for mass consumption, it is mass production for Big Projects, which we know the ancients mastered in the megalithic period. Pyramids and all.

Slavery and the organization of a religiously oriented (ideologically controlled) servile population can indeed do amazing things. But not beat capitalism at its own game.

So, what of communism? The communal production of a limited set of goods for common needs can work in small groups. That this manner of economic organization produces a great abundance of consumer goods or can be carried on in an egalitarian fashion are fantasies of romantics who cannot think very well. Human being run up against calculation problems, as Mises explained, as well as the Dunbar number, and similar problems.

Few tribes actually engaged in communism for all goods produced. Individual and family property was a commonplace throughout the primitive world. But some things were done communally. But in societies more complex than mere tribes, some method of organization had to develop, and these included honor standards, allowing the adulation of Big Men — chiefs — whose vigor, intelligence, and social skills allowed for elaborate hierarchies to expand economies out of rudimentary forms. Some of the most successful of these chiefdoms became conquerors, and found ways to grift off of sedentary populations, after conquest, and civilization with their states were born.

In all the upward progress and sideways motions of societies and their histories, communism haunted the imaginations of poets and sages and shamans and priests, probably for reasons that psychologists have theorized: as lingering dreams expanding on the yearning of strapped adults for their lost childhoods, when benevolent parents and other adults provided all and made everything work like magic.

Communism of that sort is a dream and a yearning, and deserves, in most cases, little more than eye rolls.

Communism of the Soviet variety deserves a finger on the trigger, for Communists lie about what they are doing, and the contradictions of their own ideas mean they are always one small step away from mass murder.