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1 one Was State Socialism Wasteful? Upon an island hard to reach, the East Beast sits upon his beach. Upon the west beach sits the West Beast. Each beach beast thinks he’s the best beast. Which beast is best? . . . Well, I thought at first that the East was best and the West was worst. Then I looked again from the west to the east and I liked the beast on the east beach least. Dr. Seuss, West Beast East Beast A Puzzle Soon after I came to the United States in 1988 as a Hungarian émigré, state socialism collapsed, not only in my country but also in the entire socialist camp of Europe. In reading American news about the region, I was struck by the persistence of the metaphor of waste. State socialism was described as having been a wasteful economic order and polluted to the extreme by its wastes. Visual representations of state socialism invoked the image of the state socialist landscape most familiar in the West—a gray still life composed of shoddy goods; people wearing poor, idiosyncratic clothes from the cult of waste to the trash heap of history 2 surrounded by houses that looked like they could fall apart at any time; and piled-up garbage and filth. Images are not timeless snapshots, however; they tell a story. Here, the juxtaposition of images—‘‘backward’’ production technologies, represented by horse-drawn carts and smokestacks burning coal; power plants; poverty with debris, dirt, and toxic wastes; and degraded nature—tell a story about state socialism that has been told for many decades , portraying it as megalomaniac yet outdated industrialization that left society in poverty, generated tremendous amounts of waste, and caused environmental destruction. Textual representations in journalistic accounts, policy papers, and scholarly works rarely go further than the confirmation of this imagery. The main culprits are usually poor management of the economy and outdated technology. ‘‘Open hearth steel manufacturing and other outdated, inefficient technologies are still widely used by East European and Soviet industries ,’’ states the World Watch Institute in a 1991 study explaining state socialist wastefulness and pollution (World Watch Institute 1991). In addition to backwardness, a ‘‘faulty, mismanaged economic system’’ has been invoked as a key cause of environmental degradation. ‘‘Lack of efficiency in East German factories is a major pollution factor. On the average, they use twice as much energy as necessary, burning huge amounts of coal to generate the needed electricity,’’ says the director of research for the West German Federal Ministry of the Environment (Mutch 1990, 4). Scholarly works and studies made by international financial and aid hubs applying statistical data often point out that state socialist countries’ emissions/GDP, emissions/capita, and waste/GDP indexes, as well as material and energy intensity indexes,1 have been significantly higher than— and often multiples of—Western equivalents. Data on gross emissions suggest that sulphur dioxide emissions per head of the population are higher for Czechoslovakia, the GDR and Poland than for any other countries in the world. These emissions are the consequence of a wasteful use of energy combined with a reliance upon coal, especially brown coal, for a large fraction of total primary energy consumption. (Hughes 1990, 4) The World Watch Institute adds, ‘‘The Soviet Union and East European countries generally use 50 to 100 percent more energy than the United States to produce a dollar of gross domestic product (GDP) and 100–300 percent more than Japan’’ (French 1990). The result is, as a New York Times author puts it: ‘‘Mountains of garbage. Literally, garbage’’ (Lewis 1990, A21). The textual, visual, and statistical representations all suggest, there- Was State Socialism Wasteful? 3 fore, that state socialism was wasteful, both in the sense of squandering resources and in the sense of being full of wastes: producing too many rejects, too much waste and garbage, and too many outdated and/or super- fluous goods. But too many compared to what? In the great majority of representations, state socialism’s wastefulness is not only confirmed but, implicitly or explicitly, it is also contrasted with the cleanliness, efficiency, and thriftiness of Western capitalism. In the above-quoted New York Times piece, for example, the author admits that these ‘‘mountains of garbage’’ (400,000 tons of detritus and 40,000 tons of toxic waste per year) were imported from West Germany, yet this fact does not stop her from concluding that the performance of Western capitalism is superior: ‘‘After all...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780253116925
Related ISBN
9780253348388
MARC Record
OCLC
216934526
Pages
264
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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