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The didn't collapse of its own accord myth, bleh. Neither did the French empire, right? To their credit, the Russians didn't fight to keep it (with the glaring exception of Chechnya). But there is no question that the  Baltic and Caucasian republics wanted out. It is probable that the Ukrainians did as well at that point. Cohen's playing the same shtick that Niall Fergusson does with the British Empire here.

He also knows better than to offer the grossly simplistic (at best) analogy of 1917 and 1991.

I do not think it is coincidental that Cohen (and Wallerstein) are both people quite sympathetic to Bolshevism, circa 1917. Cohen's book on Bukharin, which made his reputation, while very good, plays the good Bolsheviks vs. Stalin who hijacked the noble project meme to the hilt. Cohen's dream of a socialist state run by a single party, ideally with popular support, if not, well, false consciousness and all that, died, and he can't quite get over it.  

by MarekNYC on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 04:07:56 PM EST
Well, I think the 76% vote for the union in the 9 republics (Russia, Belarus, the Ukraine, Azerbaidjan and the five "Stans", all of which saw voting majorities ratify Gorbachev's new federal arrangement) speaks to the fact that the "empire," if that is what it could be called by the time the referendum took place, was certainly not democratically dismantled. Russians and citizens of 8 of the 14 other republics in the union did not want the union dissolved. That it was dissolved has more to do with the kleptocratic nature of the subsequent regime and the interests of ruling elites in those other republics, which in varying measure followed the same kleptocratic script.

Not sure that the analogy is quite so simplistic, either, as far as describing the enormous social and economic fracture that both periods represent, fractures which were purposefully caused by a ruling elite, in the former case by ideological zeal, in the latter by the more typical animating principal of elites everywhere, greed. New orders completely wiping out the old, and real people suffering as a result.

Your comment on Wallerstein and Cohen and their sympathies to a certain idea of what bolshevism meant is duly noted, though I expect that you see this as something of a negative, something which discredits their argument. I'd prefer to let the argument stand on its own two feet without impugning the motives of the arguer, myself.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 04:30:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you for this interesting diary!

To what extent can these numbers be trusted?

-- Fighting my own apathy..

by Naneva (mnaneva at gmail dot com) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 04:48:23 PM EST
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Well, they are generally seen as legitimate (though it's true that not all republics participated) but past practise may have had a hand in guiding the result.

See Marek's reference, below, to subsequent result in Ukraine on independence. Numbers varying widely here, newly Democratic institutions are undoubtedly more fragile than longstanding ones. That's true everywhere.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 05:23:22 PM EST
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I agree that Russia and the 'Stans weren't in favour of a dissolution. Azerbaidjan is more complicated due to the war. Ukraine on the other hand voted 90% for independence in December 1990. The shift from March to December was, I suspect mirrored to a lesser degree in at least some of the other republics. It was a very fluid situation.

If a person whose political ideal was the empire is lamenting its demise, then that fact is relevant. Just as it will be relevant in a few years time when neo-cons adopt the incompetency dodge while praising the noble, mismanaged Iraq project, lamenting its failure, and stressing the negative sides of the American withdrawal. (And for the record, the Bolsheviks in their early period killed far more people, using far more indiscriminate violence than the Americans in Iraq. So the analogy is a bit unfair to the neocons.)

by MarekNYC on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 05:02:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
True enough.

The neo-con to bolshevik analogy is fair at root, I think. In my view, while there was clearly far more indiscriminate loss of innocent life in the Soviet Union in the immediate aftermath of the revolution, we have to also contend with the historical context - general war in Europe, an absolutist monarchy overthrown, a resulting civil war. These are mitigating, or at least explaining, circumstances.

The neo-cons have no such mitigating circumstances and, what's more, the ideological basis for their thesis of spreading progress is disputable at best. Far less so in 1917.

(A better analogy though might be 1789...)


The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 05:18:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The general war aspect is a mitigating circumstance, a huge one. The rest works the other way - the Bolsheviks overthrew those who overthrew the absolutist monarchy, and the civil war followed the October, not the February Revolution. The spreading progress part I might agree with if it weren't for the fact that the Bolsheviks favorite revolutionaries were Robespierre and Saint Just... they positively admired the Terror.
by MarekNYC on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 05:33:06 PM EST
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Well, I took you to mean the entire early period, with not all the civil wars being the fault of the Bolsheviks, thinking of those anarchist revolts in particular.

As for the favorite revolutionaries, suspect the attitudes were colored by the times, which were not the best of times for average Russians by any means, generalized war in Europe or no.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 06:02:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I did mean the entire early period. To stretch the analogy a bit more, imagine that the Baathists had been overthrown and a new, semi-secular, fragile multiparty government had been created. Plenty of instability, some revolts, some theocratic threats, but the latter not enough to takeover. Then imagine the neo-cons launching their invasion because it wasn't neoliberal and anti-Islamist enough - and then all hell really breaking loose.

My point about their admiration for the Committee of Public Safety is that the mass murder and torture of real, 'objective', and thoroughly imaginary enemies was a feature, not a bug. Analogizing some more, the Bush-Cheney executive branch power grab was not simply an ad hoc stumbling in reaction to 9/11, but rather the use of 9/11 as an excuse to do what they had long wanted.

by MarekNYC on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 06:36:08 PM EST
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I understood you to mean this, and I agree. I simply point out that different times produce different leaders, and times of divine rights of oblivious tsars and starving peasants are times when less than humanitarian leaders tend to rise to the fore.

Following your most excellent analogy re Bush and co. further, let's assume an environment where divine right of CEOs continue to flourish, as usualy via the barrel of a gun, where conscription returns to supply to grist for their wars, and where real people not only start getting hungry, but starving as well while the neolib emperors play mpegs of violin concertos in their McMansions.

I suspect in that environment, there will be more than a few who deem peaceful, democratic change to be a less than satisfactory route of redress.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 06:48:55 PM EST
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Yup. And it is the same sort of thought that makes me so hostile to the more radical, revolutionary folks on this site (and beyond) - violent, radical revolutionaries don't have a particularly positive twentieth century track record. Non-violent moderate ones may have often failed, but as it turned out that still often beat their radical cousins' success.
by MarekNYC on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 06:55:23 PM EST
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Point me to the revolutionaries!

The non-violent moderate ones, of course ;)

Happy people, you mean.  People who aren't always waiting for death, destruction, misery, or revenge...

Let's make some more!  Let our shagging be between minds, birthing clever, intelligent, witty humans, who know how to look after each other...don't have points to score or moves, well they have moves aplenty, working their angle...I'm butting in, but I haven't met the violent, radical wing of ET yet, I was wondering if you could drop some hints...point me in that direction...you know, just to see if it's as bad as they say it is...

Don't fight forces, use them R. Buckminster Fuller.

by rg (leopold dot lepster at google mail dot com) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 08:09:46 PM EST
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There was a diary the other day favourably quoting from an article calling for armed revolution in the US. A couple people reacted negatively, more people reacted to them saying they were overreacting.  There's also the occasional grotesque opinion that the US is the equivalent of Nazi Germany; something which caries certain implications within it, just as the mirror image use of the analogy on the right does (Vichycrats, Chirac as Laval, appeasement, Munich, Osama as Hitler, islamofascism, etc.)
by MarekNYC on Fri Jan 12th, 2007 at 01:14:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You mean this?

"It's the statue, man, The Statue."
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Jan 12th, 2007 at 01:28:00 PM EST
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I agree with you on the failure of violent radicalism.

But you do have a problem of seeing radical revolutionalism in people that, in reality, is far from it in their opinions. (Or so it seems to me at least.) Seriously, I can't think of any hard left people being regulars at this site.

by Trond Ove on Fri Jan 12th, 2007 at 08:32:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
deja vu?
hasn't this Mr Cohen's article discussed on this site quite recently? Or he's writing all the same, endlessly repeating himself?
And where did he find the data proving this statement -
A large majority of Russians, on the other hand, as they have regularly made clear in opinion surveys taken during the past fifteen years, regret the end of the Soviet Union

The bits of a VTSIOM's survey published in yesterday's newspaper Izvestia in the article connected with some aspects of the Russian-Belorussian relationships (see www.izvestia.ru) somehow contradict Mr Cohen's words.

Answering the quiestion In which country/union of coutries would you like to live?

30 % chose  the answer 'only in my own country' (Russia, that is)
appr.22 % would love the Russia-Ukraine-Belorussia-Kazakhstan's Union
20 % chose rebuilt old Soviet Union
14 % prefer EU
12 % would live in SNG (Union of those 9 republic)

And where's that large majority? I've seen enough surveys to get the trend of decline in popularity of the USSR.

by lana on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 05:27:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not at all the same question, but even here, 22% + 20% + 12% (all of which represent a union of some sort) represent a majority. Similar to the one on attitudes viz disintegration of the Union itself, with 56% thinking it a bad thing, still today.

And there is definite support for the thesis a majority of Russians thought the disintegration was avoidable, example here (and I'd point out the unlikeliness that a Western marketing research firm would have an interest in producing such a result, quite the contrary).

Similar results on attitudes about the Bolshevik revolution.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 05:43:04 PM EST
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but even here, 22% + 20% + 12% (all of which represent a union of some sort) represent a majority

Well, if you like to count this way, you even may improve your per cent, adding those 14 % who'd love to live in EU (which definitely represent a union of some sort too!) and even some other 2 % who 'don't know' so you'll easily get the striking 70 per cent so that  Mr Cohen would be pleased with your statistics.

;-)

by lana on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 06:22:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Similar results on attitudes about the Bolshevik revolution.

(- Many adults in the Russian Federation recall the Bolshevik movement in a positive light, according to a poll by the Yury Levada Analytical Center. 30 per cent of respondents think the 1917 October Revolution opened a new era in the history of the country...)
---
I am not even counting my self as a leftist but I think I can understand this after all they / we learned about "ROW capitalism" that they have been served (and Europe passed like century ago or so and USA is getting back to as we speak). I wonder what nice opinions those 39 millions of Americans that live in poverty can express about capitalist system of "free country" that they live in.

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind...Albert Einstein

by vbo on Tue Jan 30th, 2007 at 07:59:42 AM EST
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