This paper is a reinterpretation of the origins of the Cold War from a novel point of view: Soviet foreign economic policy. It questions two fundamental concepts that have formed the basis for our understanding of that conflict: Soviet autarky, and bipolarity. Soviet autarky has been the basis for an understanding of a “war” that, although never fought on military terms, needed two sides to be so conceptualized. Just as enemies in war can have no areas of meaningful cooperation, so did academics require of these Cold War rivals an all-encompassing enmity. To do so they came to consider the Soviet Union a camp apart, unconnected and hostile to the capitalist order. Scholars required a Soviet Union politically committed to autarky. Using archives from Moscow, however, the article argues that the Soviet Union was not autarkic by political choice and, at length, not autarkic at all. It followed a similar trajectory in international economic engagement as that of the countries in the so-called free world, and what's more, sought to do so. In other words, when one looks at the political economy of Soviet economic relations, the conceptual framework of bipolarity that sustains much of the work on the Cold War becomes difficult to maintain. Instead, I argue, an immensely powerful liberal world order acted on the Soviet Union in ways that should be familiar to scholars of global capitalism.
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