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The dismantling of the Soviet Union, revisited.

by r------ Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 12:30:12 PM EST

Stephen F Cohen, Russian History expert, professor of History at New York University, and good friend of former Secretary General of the CPSU, Mikhail Gorbachev, has an excellent survey of the collapse of the Soviet Union in the holiday edition of The Nation, a leftish political news magazine in the US (and often a decent read).

Cohen presents some insightful thoughts on differences in attitudes and beliefs about the collapse of the Soviet Union, comparing the gulf between how Russians look at the event and how "Westerners" do.


I would suggest that bridging that gulf will prove to be a fruitful exercise, one which will pay dividends to the Western left in particular, though to be sure there are understandable wounds being nursed in many former Warsaw Pact nations about which we need to be sensitive. All this being said, Cohen describes well the chasm, and explains much of its sources. To us to continue the work.

The most consequential event of the second half of the twentieth century took place surreptitiously fifteen years ago at a secluded hunting lodge in the Belovezh Forest near Minsk. On December 8, 1991, heads of three of the Soviet Union's fifteen republics, led by Boris Yeltsin of Russia, met there to sign documents abolishing that seventy-four-year-old state.

Reactions to the end of the Soviet Union were, and remain, profoundly different. For the overwhelming majority of American commentators, it was an unambiguously positive turning point in Russian and world history. As the Soviet breakup quickly became the defining moment in a new American triumphalist narrative, the US government's hope that Mikhail Gorbachev's pro-Soviet democratic and market reforms of 1985-91 would succeed was forgotten. In the media, all the diverse complexity of Soviet history was now presented as "Russia's seven decades as a rigid and ruthless police state," a history "every bit as evil as we had thought--indeed more so." A New York Times columnist even suggested that a "fascist Russia" would have been a "much better thing."

Nicholas Kristof let that gem fly off the end of his pen. That's the same "liberal" (eg US "left") Nicholas Kristof currently wishing for ponies in Irak and Darfur on the editorial papers of the US "journal of record," which all "serious" liberals read in America.

American academic specialists reacted similarly, though in their own way. With few exceptions, they reverted, also forgetting what they had only recently written, to pre-Gorbachev Sovietological axioms that the system had always been unreformable and doomed. The opposing scholarly view that there had been other possibilities in Soviet history, "roads not taken," was again dismissed as an "improbable idea" based on "dubious," if not disloyal, notions. Gorbachev's reforms, despite having so remarkably dismantled the Communist Party dictatorship, had been "a chimera," and the Soviet Union therefore died from a "lack of alternatives."

Accordingly, most American specialists no longer asked, even in light of the human tragedies that followed in the 1990s, if a reforming Soviet Union might have been the best hope for the post-Communist future of Russia or any of the other former republics. (Nor have any mainstream commentators asked if its survival would have been better for world affairs.) On the contrary, they concluded, as a leading university authority insisted, that everything Soviet had to be discarded by "the razing of the entire edifice of political and economic relations." Such certitudes are now, of course, the only politically correct ones in US policy, media and academic circles.

He is right about "no mainstream commentators" straying from the popular wisdom that the "Evil Empire" had been brought down by the weight of its own ideological shortcomings. "Communism" was an "abomination" in every way, shape and form it appeared, and accordingly, it would simply collapse under its own inefficiencies and the failings of a rigidly command economy which was presumed to be the only form of "communism" available. Some even employed the language of a Marxian historical analyst, as in this example, from Democratic Talk Radio:

   

The Soviet Union was almost certain to collapse, like every other multi-national empire in history, because of the internal contradictions and stresses inherent in multi-national empires. The Soviet system was doomed from the day it started by nationalism. It had hundreds of nationalities speaking hundreds of languages held together by a corrupted ideology and force. Truman understood that containing the Soviet threat alone would eventually be sufficient to collapse the Soviet Union. History proved him correct.

Note that the above comment, like that of Kristof, is a criticism from the American "left", so you can imagine how much of an idée reçue the concept is in America and, in truth, though to a lesser extent, in Western Europe as well. There are dissenting voices in the US, Immanuel Wallerstein coming immediately to mind in the English language. But by and large, the narrative in the West is uniform: the Soviet Unions collapse, just as the triumph of neo-liberalism, was inevitable.

The funny thing is, Russians don't see it that way.

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, not because they pine for "Communism" but because they lost a familiar state and secure way of life. No less important, they do not share the nearly unanimous Western view that the Soviet Union's "collapse" was "inevitable" because of inherent fatal defects. They believe instead, and for good reason, that three "subjective" factors broke it up: the way Gorbachev carried out his political and economic reforms; a power struggle in which Yeltsin overthrew the Soviet state in order to get rid of its president, Gorbachev; and property-seizing Soviet bureaucratic elites, the nomenklatura, who were more interested in "privatizing" the state's enormous wealth in 1991 than in defending it.

Most Russians, including even the imprisoned post-Soviet oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, therefore still see December 1991 as a "tragedy," a perspective expressed in the adage: "Anyone who does not regret the breakup of the Soviet Union has no heart." (It continues: "And anyone who thinks it can be reconstructed has no head.")

In addition, a growing number of Russian intellectuals have come to believe that something essential was lost--a historic opportunity, thwarted for centuries, to achieve the nation's political and economic modernization by continuing, with or without Gorbachev, his Soviet reformation, or perestroika, as he named it. While the Soviet breakup led American specialists back to cold war-era concepts of historical inevitability, it convinced many of their Russian counterparts that "there are always alternatives in history" and that a Soviet reformation had been one of the "lost alternatives"--a chance to democratize and marketize Russia by methods more gradualist, consensual and less traumatic, and thus more fruitful and less costly, than those adopted after 1991.  

Whether or not some version of Gorbachev's perestroika was a missed opportunity for Russia's "non-catastrophic transformation" instead of its recurring "modernization through catastrophe" may be for historians to decide. But it was already clear at the time, or should have been, that the way the Soviet Union ended--in fateful circumstances about which standard American accounts are largely silent or mythical--boded ill for the future. (One myth, promoted by Yeltsin's supporters to claim he saved the country from Yugoslavia's bloody fate, is that the dissolution was "peaceful." In reality, ethnic civil wars and other strife soon erupted in Central Asia and Transcaucasia, killing hundreds of thousands of former Soviet citizens and brutally displacing even more, a process still under way.)  

This sort of disconnect in concurrent interpretations of contemporary history, as is the case between Russian views of events and those of "Westerners," in my view speaks more of the ideological biases of "Westerners" and our keen and instinctive triumphalism (especially true of Americans but equally shared by many Europeans). We differ on the  catalyst for the event  - "left" and right  in the US dicker over whether it was Truman or Reagan who heroically slew the Communist beast, while Europeans, depending on perspective, accentuate the impact of Carol Wojtyla, Willy Brandt or Maggie Thatcher as Reagan's side-kick. But we all claim credit. And it confirms powerful preconceptions of how the world works as well, and of the ultimate superiority of neo-liberalism.

That it be an historical accident brought about by a disasterous coup, the aftermath of which was hijacked by a rank opportunist and drunk more than willing to sell out Russian interests to the highest bidder would not fit neatly in this narrative, of course.

Most generally, there were ominous parallels between the Soviet breakup and the collapse of Tsarism in 1917. In both cases, the way the old order ended resulted in a near total destruction of Russian statehood that plunged the country into prolonged chaos, conflict and misery. Russians call what ensued smuta, a term full of dread derived from previous historical experiences and not expressed in the usual translation, "time of troubles." Indeed, in this respect, the end of the Soviet Union may have had less to do with the specific nature of that system than with recurring breakdowns in Russian history.

The similarities between 1991 and 1917, despite important differences, were significant. Once again, hopes for evolutionary progress toward democracy, prosperity and social justice were crushed; a small group of radicals, this time around Yeltsin, imposed extreme measures on the nation; fierce struggles over property and territory tore apart the foundations of a vast multiethnic state; and the victors destroyed longstanding economic and other essential structures to build entirely anew, "as though we had no past."

Once again, elites acted in the name of a better future but left society bitterly divided over yet another of Russia's perennial "accursed questions"--why it had happened. And again the people paid the price.

All of those recapitulations unfolded, amid mutual (and lasting) charges of betrayal, during the three months from August to December 1991, when the piecemeal destruction of the Soviet state occurred. The period began and ended with coups (as in 1917)--the first a failed military putsch against Gorbachev organized by his own ministers in the center of Moscow, the second Yeltsin's liquidation of the state itself in the Belovezh Forest. The period culminated in a revolution from above against the Soviet system of power and property by its own elites. Looking back, Russians of different views have concluded that it was during those months that political extremism and unfettered greed cost them a chance for democratic and economic progress.

This is certainly not the view, of course, of "Westerners".

Certainly, it is hard to imagine a political act more extreme than abolishing what was still, for all its crises and defections, a nuclear superpower state of 286 million citizens. And yet, Yeltsin did it, as even his sympathizers acknowledged, precipitously and in a way that was "neither legitimate nor democratic." A profound departure from Gorbachev's commitment to social consensus and constitutionalism, it was a return to the country's "neo-Bolshevik" tradition of imposed change, as many Russian, and even a few Western, writers have characterized it. The ramifications were bound to endanger the democratization achieved during the preceding six years of perestroika.

Yeltsin and his aides promised, for example, that their extreme measures were "extraordinary" ones, but as had happened before in Russia, most recently during Stalin's forcible collectivization of the peasantry in 1929-33, they grew into a system of rule. (The next such measures, already being planned, were economic "shock therapy.") Those initial steps also had a further political logic. Having ended the Soviet state in a way that lacked legal or popular legitimacy--in a referendum only nine months before, 76 percent of the large turnout had voted to preserve the Union--the Yeltsin ruling group soon became fearful of real democracy. In particular, an independent, freely elected Parliament and the possibility of relinquishing power in any manner raised, we are told by Russians with impeccable democratic credentials, the specter of "going on trial and to prison." And indeed Yeltsin's armed overthrow of the Russian Parliament soon followed.

That refendum he's referring to is the New Union Treaty which Gorbachev personally shepherded to popular ratification in 9 of the 15 Soviet republics which participated (the Baltic states, Georgia, Armenia and Moldova all boycotting). This is typically glossed over in popular Western accounts of the "implosion" of the Soviet Union, as is the anti-democratic nature of the Yeltsin regime. The weak constitutional basis for Yeltsin's continuing power, and the siege of the Duma is hardly given a mention, and when it is given, it is often to engage in apologetics as to the _necessity_ of taking such undemocratic measures - inevitability of liberalization, to be sure, though Yeltsin's facilitating of the selling off of Russian assets played more than a small part to be sure.

Unsurprisingly, this is not an attitude shared, in the main, by Russians.

The economic dimensions of Belovezh were no less portentous. Dissolving the Union without any preparatory stages shattered a highly integrated economy. In addition to abetting the destruction of the state, it was a major cause of the collapse of production across the former Soviet territories, which fell by almost half in the 1990s. That in turn contributed to mass poverty and its attendant social pathologies, which are still, according to a respected Moscow economist, the "main fact" of Russian life today.

The economic motivation behind elite support for Yeltsin in 1991 was even more ramifying. As a onetime Yeltsin supporter wrote thirteen years later, "Almost everything that happened in Russia after 1991 was determined to a significant extent by the divvying-up of the property of the former USSR." Here too there were foreboding historical precedents. Twice before in twentieth-century Russia the nation's fundamental property had been confiscated--the landlords' vast estates and bourgeoisie's industrial and other large assets in the revolution of 1917-18, and then the land of 25 million peasant farmers in Stalin's collectivization drive. The after-effects of both episodes plagued the country for years to come.

In effect, how ownership of the means is determined plays less of a role in historical development than is the continuity of the basis of that ownership. And the economic collapse, far from being entirely the result of terribly inefficient state-run enterprises, was at the very least heavily accentuated, if not primarily driven, by the systematic, often ideologically-propelled dismantling of a highly integrated economic system.

In neo-lib terms, try keeping your multinational corporation profitable when your supply chain has just collapsed. Easier said than done. Course, when it happens to you, it's because of an "act of god" or "unfair government meddling". When it happens to the Soviet Union, it is the "rot in the system".

Soviet elites took much of the state's enormous wealth, which for decades they had defined in law and ideology as the "property of all the people," with no more regard for fair procedures or public opinion. To maintain their dominant position and enrich themselves, they wanted the most valuable state property distributed from above, without the participation of legislatures or any other representatives of society. They achieved that goal first by themselves, through "spontaneous nomenklatura privatization," and then, after 1991, through Kremlin decrees issued by Yeltsin, who played, as a former top aide put it, "first fiddle in this historic divvying-up." But as a result, privatization was also haunted from the beginning by, in the words of another Russian scholar, a "'dual illegitimacy'--in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of the population."

The political and economic consequences should have been easy to anticipate. Fearful for their dubiously acquired assets and even for their lives, the new property holders, who formed the post-Soviet elite, were as determined as Yeltsin to limit or reverse the parliamentary electoral democracy initiated by Gorbachev. In its place, they strove to create a kind of praetorian political system devoted to and corrupted by their wealth, at best a "managed" democracy. (Hence their choice of Vladimir Putin, a vigorous man from the security services, to replace the enfeebled President Yeltsin in 1999.) And for much the same reason, uncertain how long they could actually retain their immense property, they were more interested in stripping its assets than investing in it. The result was an 80 percent decline in investment in Russia's economy by the end of the 1990s and the opposite of the nation's modernization, its actual demodernization.  

A decline which has only been turned around by oil and gas, and another angle by which to view both Putin and his positioning viz. Russian oil and gas interests.

Considering all of these ominous circumstances, why did so many American commentators, from politicians and journalists to scholars, hail the breakup of the Soviet Union as a "breakthrough" to democracy and free-market capitalism? Where Russia was concerned, their reaction was, as usual, based mainly on anti-Communist ideology and hopeful myths, not historical or contemporary realities. Alluding to that myopia on the part of people who had sought the destruction of the Soviet state, a Moscow philosopher later remarked bitterly, "They were aiming at Communism but hitting Russia."

I'll tell you why. Where there are resources, there is a buck to be made. Move along, folks, there's really nothing more to see than that. And if something gets in the way of making that buck, its time to starting talking enemy talk again, as we see viz. Russia again today.

One of the most ideological myths surrounding the end of the Soviet Union was, to quote both another Times columnist and a leading American historian, that it "collapsed at the hands of its own people" and brought to power in Russia "Yeltsin and the democrats"--even "moral leaders"--who represented the people. No popular revolution, national election or referendum having mandated or sanctioned the breakup, there was no empirical evidence for this supposition. Indeed, everything strongly suggested very different interpretations, as most Russians have long since concluded.

The columnist he refers to is another American "liberal," Tom Friedman, and here, I have to take issue with Cohen. Friedman is by no means a "leading American historian," unless Leon Uris is too.

As for Yeltsin's role, even the most event-making leaders need supporters in order to carry out historic acts. Yeltsin abolished the Soviet Union in December 1991 with the backing of a self-interested alliance. All of its groups called themselves "democrats" and "reformers," but the two most important were unlikely allies: the nomenklatura elites that were pursuing the "smell of property like a beast after prey," in the revealing metaphor of Yeltsin's own chief minister, and wanted property much more than any kind of democracy or free-market competition; and an avowedly prodemocracy wing of the intelligentsia. Traditional enemies in the pre-Gorbachev Soviet system, they colluded in 1991 largely because the intelligentsia's radical market ideas seemed to justify nomenklatura privatization.

But the most influential pro-Yeltsin intellectuals, who played leading roles in his post-Soviet government, were neither coincidental fellow travelers nor real democrats. Since the late 1980s, they had insisted that free-market economics and large-scale private property would have to be imposed on a recalcitrant Russian society by an "iron hand" regime. This "great leap," as they extolled it, would entail "tough and unpopular" policies resulting in "mass dissatisfaction" and thus would necessitate "anti-democratic measures." Like the property-seeking elites, they saw Russia's newly elected legislatures as an obstacle. Admirers of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who had brutally imposed economic change on Chile, they said of Yeltsin, now their leader, "Let him be a dictator!" Not surprisingly, they cheered (along with the US government and mainstream media) when he used tanks to destroy Russia's popularly elected Parliament in 1993.

Political and economic alternatives still existed in Russia after 1991. Other fateful struggles and decisions lay ahead. And none of the factors contributing to the end of the Soviet Union were inexorable or deterministic. But even if authentic democratic and market aspirations were among them, so were cravings for power, political coups, elite avarice, extremist ideas and widespread perceptions of illegitimacy and betrayal. All of these factors continued to play a role after 1991, but it should already have been clear which would prevail.

Absolutely so. And cheer they did, and for reasons which are quite clear today, though in the heady days of Papa Bush's "New World Order," it was easy to be taken in by ideological frames erected in much of the "West" in conjunction with the Second Cold War and epitomized by Ronald Reagan's famous quote concerning the "evil empire".

The only way forward is to lucidly pick apart what has preceded us without the ideologically blinders to which we are routinely subjected, in particular when the topic of the Soviet Union comes up. While lefties have been taking stock of the deeply counterproductive and repressive nature of Stalinism for a half-century or more now, it is now time for us to also coldly recognize what actually happened in the early 1990's in Russia and other parts of the Soviet Union, to accept that out of failures there was much to learn (as Gorbatchev himself set out to show), that every two steps forward involve a step, and sometimes more, backwards, before the next steps forward are to be taken. We do well not to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as is said in America.

And Ronald Reagan wasn't the only one talking about Evil Empires back in the `80's. So was Joe Jackson. In his timeless tune, we see now more than ever what he was on about back then...


There's a country where no one knows
What's going on in the rest of the world
There's a country where minds are closed
With just a few asking questions

Like what do their leaders say
In sessions behind closed doors
And if this is the perfect way
Why do we need these goddamn lies

This doesn't go down too well
We give you everything and you throw it back
Don't like it here you can go to hell
You're either with or against us . . .

There's a country that's great and wide
Its got the biggest of everything
Try to attack it and you cant hide
Don't say that you haven't been warned

You cant hide in a gunman's mask
Or kill innocent folks and run
But if you're good at it they might ask -
Come on over to the other side

There's a country that's tired of war
There's a country that's scared inside
But the bank is open and you can draw
For guns to fight in their backyard

I could go on but what's the use
You can't fight them with songs
But think of this as just
Another tiny blow against the empire


Joe ain't talking `bout the ol' Soviet Union there, either.

Display:
Really interesting diary.  Haven't had time to digest all of it yet, but I just have to ask this:  On what planet is Thomas Friedman considered a liberal?
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 01:46:05 PM EST
I didn't know Kristof was considered one either...  

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire
by p------- on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 02:16:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We're talking by average Americans.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill
by r------ on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 03:02:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh, the "rif raf," the "yahoos," is that it?

Guess what, your "average Americans" don't read this site, so stop trying to play us like yahoos, ok?  Pathetic.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 03:33:41 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Huh?

Honestly, I don't follow you.

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

by r------ on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 03:54:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Can you understand this?:

I don't like your mischaracterization of the American left, which relies upon the assumption that we are ignorant, especially when it diminishes an otherwise worthy topic and decent diary like this one.

BTW, if you are interested, you can find my diary on Cohen's previous Nation article here.  

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 04:29:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Good diary, thanks for the link.

I recall your phrase from a previous thread. And honestly, I have to say that the American left is quite disappointing in my view, and I'm quite willing to express that disappointment.

For one thing, there are no ideological moorings. Folks who call themselves "left" or "liberal" in America are quite often as distrustful of the rightful and efficient role of the state in society as anyone on the right side of the spectrum - in Europe, or in America for that matter. Government is not a critical and efficient provider of services in the view of many. Rather, government is simply how income gets redistributed and the army gets funded in their view.

A similar dynamic is at work viz foreign policy as well. Sure, there are high profile lefties in positions of power, take Kucinich for instance. But he is the exception which proves the rule, which is why a guy like Kos calls him unserious. The lefties have been completely marginalized in the political arena, and it shows in the results.

Unsurprisingly, not one piece of fundamentally progressive legislation has emerged from Washington since Nixon was president.

Now, I know there is a left in the US which has ideological moorings, but as a percent of the electorate, you can count them on one hand, two of them tops. The average joe Democrat, and this goes for self-described "liberals," has no such moorings, his or her ideology is more a set of attitudes about what it takes to be a nice guy or gal than a governing program of guided by progressive principles. He or she might today say "Dubya is a bad guy, so everything he does is bad. Why? Well, because he screwed up the war (ie, not because the war was an ill-intentioned imperial folly, but because it was poorly executed). Because he's trampling on my civil rights. But decidely not because the poor are getting an ever greater shaft - that's not government's fault, that's walmart's, and I try not to shop there, though it's true their pool supplies are cheaper than anywhere else..."

I suspect you are one of the good guys or gals in America, I do know a few. If so, accept my apologies. If so, I think you'll have to agree with me that we are a very very small segment of the vox populi in America today. We're not the problem - it's the smallness of our numbers which is.

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

by r------ on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 05:07:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks, but I don't want to belong to your "we're better than everyone else" club.  

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire
by p------- on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 06:55:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not a "better than everybody else" club. It's a "here are some objective ideological moorings, and here's where you fit" club.

Sorry if I don't particularly care to fit into your purity troll meme here, but I certainly do not apologize for my characterization of the political left in the US and its utter lack of achievement in my lifetime, for which I have my own explanation.

If you have your own explanation for why the left has imploded and done nothing in the US for 35 years, I'd be happy to hear it.

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

by r------ on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 06:59:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What?  I'm the purity troll?  America would have to elect effing Mao before you'd acknowledge there are actual genuine liberals in this country.

I just want you to 1)get your facts straight (I thought that was de rigeur here anyway) and 2) stop using Grover Norquist's talking points when painting a picture of the American left.  And drop the holier-than-thou bs.

The fact is you have a lot to learn and a lot of wrong-headed FOX newsish ideas about this country.  A little humility on your part would go a long way.  When you have Americans on this blog correcting you, when you are writing a freaking diary about an American who is doing responsible reporting on Russia, you might want to step back and reassess your stereotype of American liberals, who come in all shapes and sizes, by the way.  It's a political spectrum, you know.  But not to you.  To you it is black and white.  A person either embraces your set notion of correct political ideology to a tee, or they are indistinguishable among Tom Friedman, Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.  

And while I've no reason to think you are any kind of expert on American policy, I would repeat that many people do agree with you on a great many topics.  The majority?  No.  (Though the majority is silent so it is really anyone's guess.)  And it isn't intellectually honest to lump them all in a bunch with the DLC or NYT columnists.  Again, it is like you read the MSM and never leave your home.  In fact, I'd be willing to bet the majority of Americans couldn't even identify the DLC or Friedman.  You are in wonk territory there.  But I can tell you I ride a subway packed with people wearing Impeach Bush buttons.  I know it is not fashionable to admit that our metropolises are part of the country (even though they are where most people actually live, are our centers of commerce and culture...), but to paint a picture of America where everyone's an uneducated backwards hick or a selfish millionare is to embrace stereotypes.  Just because the environmentalists and socialists and rational thinking people don't get as much airtime as the nut jobs does not me they don't exist.  And they might be fringe in some places, but they are the mainstream where I live.  

And while Democrats haven't had much national control in the last 35 years, and those who have have been pansies aiding and abetting the agenda of the GOP, there are good liberal leaders out there at the local level.  And while the party did implode, we've been BUSTING OUR ASSES to get our act together and have actually managed to get elected and are now in a position to walk the talk.  Don't hold your breath for a France or a Venezuela anytime soon, but it is now possible to expect real progress to be made in our govt.  It will never live up to your expectations, but you will find more to your satisfaction if you actually try to reach out to and understand people, to help them understand why x,y and z are good ideas, and to encourage their efforts, even though they could be futile, than you will sitting in front of your computer imagining this mythical nation of ignorant fascists, thinking yourself well-informed and bloating your exiled ego.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 10:57:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Y'know, I'm just as American as you, I just happen to be a dual nationality.

I also live in America, have for the past ten years. Lived here for most of the '80's as well. I've seen it in action, I saw Clinton and welfare reform, I saw a Democratic-led Senate give Dubya his Irak war, I saw a Democratic congress bend over and share in Reagan's "reforms."

And as said downthread, I'll believe the walk when I see it. I've heard enough talk.

Oh, and I don't have to hold my breath for progress in France. When it comes to social protections and rights, France is so far ahead of the US, it's as if the US has two generations to make up. So you can think what you like, but some realistic bearings of your ideological base and of what has actually been achieved (as opposed to talked about) would be in order.

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

by r------ on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 11:07:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
By the way, I do believe "bloated exiled ego" rises to the level of ad hom.

I'd quit while you're ahead.

 

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

by r------ on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 11:10:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You can't even quote me honestly.  

Please ignore me and have your fun here. I obviously cannot force you to see the hipocracy of your ways (so earnest to get people to ignore the rhetoric about Russia and see things from another point of view while embracing the rhetoric about America and ignoring any other point of view but your own.)

Anyway, welcome aboard.  I've always wanted more coverage of Russia here.  And it seems that given all we know about you, you are a much better fit for this place than I am.  Maybe they will even make you a front pager, if you bat your eyes at Jerome enough...  

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Fri Jan 12th, 2007 at 02:37:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Ack you two - get a room.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Jan 13th, 2007 at 06:18:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Further down the thread you're urging me to consider context when judging politicians. You're failing to do so with Americans. It is a much more right wing society - I don't mean political views here, but in practice.

Who is more left wing, the person pushing for higher payments and 'reform' of a universal health care system, or the one pushing for expanding government provided health care in one dominated by the private sector. What about raising taxes on the wealthy in the name of fiscal responsibility and social justice, or lowering them in the name of economic efficiency. To take an example, I'd say that Clinton was to the left of Schroeder, even though by some objective measuring stick he wasn't.

In any case you're wrong about American liberals not believing in government services. There's unanimous support for universal health care as the top domestic priority, and most in would prefer single payer. That many of them are debating what would be possible in practice given the magnitude of the task of the wholesale restructuring one seventh of the economy, and what sort of compromises would be acceptable doesn't change that. We only number some twenty to thirty percent of the population - a significant number, but we're in a two party single member district system. Either we make deals with the moderates or we might as well give up.

You're also ignoring the extent to which the mainstream of American liberals has shifted left since 2000, and degree of preoccupation with poverty, insecurity, and inequality that hasn't been seen since Mondale's landslide loss.  

by MarekNYC on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 08:35:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Further down the thread you're urging me to consider context when judging politicians. You're failing to do so with Americans. It is a much more right wing society - I don't mean political views here, but in practice.

Completely different context. On the one hand, an autocratic, arbitrary monarchy whose underpinnings, unlike the rest of Europe, continued to reside in divine right and where people would regularly starve as the aristocracy diddled each other and their servants. On the other, a bourgeois democracy whose real sin is the soft (for now) tyranny of the majority and a benign, almost moralistic neglect of its underclass. Completely different in virtually all ways.

I don't criticize American liberals more than I call them on their bullshit. They claim, in the main, to be on the side of the poor, but they aren't. They claim to be for peace and for social justice, but they aren't. They claim to be for economic and social equality but that's quite alot more talk than action too. They represent, in the main, the middle class, and as such, they represent it well. But they certainly do not represent progress, for human rights and human gain.

Who is more left wing, the person pushing for higher payments and 'reform' of a universal health care system, or the one pushing for expanding government provided health care in one dominated by the private sector.

Not sure I get your question. Obviously, universal, egalitarian access to health care is the proper system, and given the economic inefficiencies inherent in that particular market, the state is the most efficient provider.

He who is the most left wing is he whose proposals do the most to bring about universal, egalitarian access to health care services. He who is wisest does so in the most economical fashion, which is via the state.

What about raising taxes on the wealthy in the name of fiscal responsibility and social justice, or lowering them in the name of economic efficiency.

Lowering them in the name of economic efficiency? Surely you jest.

To take an example, I'd say that Clinton was to the left of Schroeder, even though by some objective measuring stick he wasn't.

Not sure too many Germans would agree with you, maybe Oskar Lafontaine?

In any case you're wrong about American liberals not believing in government services. There's unanimous support for universal health care as the top domestic priority, and most in would prefer single payer. That many of them are debating what would be possible in practice given the magnitude of the task of the wholesale restructuring one seventh of the economy, and what sort of compromises would be acceptable doesn't change that.

Hey, I'm pulling for that too. Though I do seem to remember the last time they tried this. Clinton fucked it up, and those moderates you allude to below helped kill it too, and a couple of them are still around and still members of good standing in the Democratic caucus (Feinstein and Lieberman to name two). So all the intentions in the world are great, and when I see the Worldvision ad on TV, I want to do something about hungry kids in the Horn of Africa too.

But I'm pretty sure the Democrats, to whose wagon the left is hitched in the US, won't get the job done. After all, they never do. The most incompetent left in the industrialized world. So I hope you'll forgive me for not holding my breath.

We only number some twenty to thirty percent of the population - a significant number, but we're in a two party single member district system. Either we make deals with the moderates or we might as well give up.

You might as well give up, because 35 years of making deals with the moderates (remember, Jimmy Carter was a moderate too - the 2nd cold war started under him, as did the deregulation which Reagan of course accelerated) sure hasn't gotten anything done. Quite the contrary, it has simply facilitated the nation's drift rightward.

You're also ignoring the extent to which the mainstream of American liberals has shifted left since 2000, and degree of preoccupation with poverty, insecurity, and inequality that hasn't been seen since Mondale's landslide loss.

Well, I guess I'll believe that when I see it. I'm seeing a lot of temerity now. I'd like to believe this is true, but actually, I think American liberals haven't changed much at all, aside from instinctive Bush hatred. Now they have an enemyt with a face, and we'll see what happens when that convenient enemy is gone.

OTOH, I do think there's a palpable shift, in particular in the heartland of the midwest and parts of the bible belt, towards the sort of economic populism which, if harnessed correctly, could translate into progress. Then again, it could be harnessed into economic nationalism and xenophobia as well. So far, most of the voices of this developing trend are on the lefter side of the spectrum and are Democrats (Schuler, Hackett, Webb). If they get some traction, I'll be more hopeful, but again, given how entrenched certain interests are in the party which pretends to represent the left (and the poor as well, not necessarily the same of course) I'd have to refrain from holding my breath there as well.    


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

by r------ on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 10:42:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In the Clinton Schroeder example I'm saying that someone who acts to make the tax system more progressive and seeks to enact measures that will increase government support for the poor is arguably to the left of someone who does the reverse. What a politician expends their political capital on says more about them than an abstract ideological spectrum. That's because forcing through changes is what is difficult. That one person starts off with a system that is well to the right of the other needs to be taken into account. Otherwise you can start making the argument that Thatcher was to the left of LBJ, for example, because after Thatcher the UK had universal health care and the US didn't. And no, few Germans would agree with me about Schroeder, but that's cause they don't understand or know America, so rather than evaluating Clinton according to the context he was operating him, they do so as if he were a German politician working in Germany. On health care Clinton failed partly because he came up with a godawful mess of a compromise in the vain hope of assuaging the insurance industry, but partly because the American health care crisis was in its early stages. Managed care was in had only begun to spread a few years earlier, many people still had the old style health insurance that functioned like a wonderful single payer system - no dealing with bureaucracy, no worrying about approvals or reimbursements, just go to the doctor of your choice, present your card and you're free to go. Basically what Clinton was promising was their nightmare - managed care, in return he would away the fear of being uninsured, but very few voters were.

The shift in liberal thinking is the disenchantment with neo-liberalism, with the blind worship of the market. Not necessarily among the population as a whole, but among the self-consciously liberal elites. Krugman is a perfect example of that change - from orthodox neolib to something else entirely.

You might as well give up, because 35 years of making deals with the moderates (remember, Jimmy Carter was a moderate too - the 2nd cold war started under him, as did the deregulation which Reagan of course accelerated) sure hasn't gotten anything done. Quite the contrary, it has simply facilitated the nation's drift rightward.

It is funny how Carter is remembered, a mix of successful propaganda and the fact that he's been much more left wing as an ex-president. (Though I like the foreign policy part - my foreign policy politics are well to the right of my domestic ones). Still, the same sort of compromising also got us LBJ's Great Society. Compromise isn't a good or bad thing in itself, it's the results that count. If the next president can move the country substantially to the left, I'll be happy even if it doesn't go as far as I'd like due to the need to get the moderates on board.

by MarekNYC on Fri Jan 12th, 2007 at 01:20:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't use the opinions of people whose standards are well below the standards of this site to bolster your arguments, primarily because it doesn't work.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 04:33:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Disregard my previous statement, I didn't parse your comments on Friedman in the story correctly.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 04:36:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We only care about median Americans here, not average ones. Same with Europeans.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 04:26:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, we do spend a bit of time talking about the mean Americans....
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 04:35:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Do I need to put a smiley on that so nobody thinks I'm being serious?

Fine:  ;-)

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 04:37:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Excellent!

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 04:52:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Planet America.

Friedman is arguably the prime example of establishment liberal thinking. From his putatively "centrist" perch at the New York Times Froegin Affairs Columinst desk, Friedman's views are not at all out of the establishment liberal mainstream (and, by extension, the critical mass of the Democratic party).

Socially liberal, devil take the hindmost on trade (recall Clinton and friends on NAFTA), pro-Israel to a fault, supporter for American imperialism under the liberal veneer of "do-goodism" in Serbia and Iraq, there's really nothing which distinguishes him from other wealthy American "liberals" than the fact that his prose is exceptionally poor and his logic quite often extremely crappy.

I'd put him somewhere between Kerry and Lieberman on the political spectrum...

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

by r------ on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 03:01:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the best coverage of Friedman anywhere is over at the exile (http://www.exile.ru). They were deconstructing him back in 1998 before it became fashionable. Go look in the archives, it's quite revealing.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 03:16:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for the link!

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill
by r------ on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 03:55:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Somehow I never heard about this site. The current feature -- 2006: The Year Russia Schooled The West -- is fascinating and brilliantly written. I haven't run across a perspective like that for quite some time. Long live the Internets.

A bomb, H bomb, Minuteman / The names get more attractive / The decisions are made by NATO / The press call it British opinion -- The Three Johns
by Alexander on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 06:26:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Mmmm, I dunno, I'm still not getting "liberal" out of any of that, even in an American context.  The word that keeps popping up is "centrist," which in the US is considerably right of center on the European scale.

Honestly, I haven't read Friedman (without being forced to) for years.  In this part of the world (supposedly the region he's the "expert on, right?) he's been long discredited, and is considered largely a bigot and a bully.

Even in the American context, none of the Democrats you identify describe themselves as "liberal," and they're called "liberal" only by Republicans.  I would myself put Friedman to the right of Lieberman... but like I said, I haven't been paying attention.  When I can help it.

by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 04:12:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That said, the Friedman issue is obviously tangential to your diary, which I did enjoy.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 04:17:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I suppose if you accept that Clinton is not a liberal, but instead a centrist, I take your point.

This being said, I hear a lot of self-described "liberals" expressing reverence both for Clinton and his wife, neither of whose political views are all that different from the same Tom Friedman with whom they share cocktails at Davos...

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

by r------ on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 06:05:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, the conventional description of Clinton's "success" was that he dragged the Democratic Party to the center, so yeah, that's what I'd call him.
by the stormy present (stormypresent aaaaaaat gmail etc) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 06:53:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't at all dispute that. I was in the US for part of that.

What I point out is that while Clinton was a "centrist" (I'd say a right-winger myself, but that's me), this doesn't stop the lion's share of self-professed "liberals" from lionizing both him and his wife.

To be sure, there are exceptions to this. But we're all cranks, dontcha know?

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

by r------ on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 06:56:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Until the impeachment got well under way, American liberals and progressives were vociferous in their criticism of Clinton - for NAFTA, for ending "welfare," for triangulation, for selling out environmentalists, for proposing policies that hurt children.  For example, Marian Wright Edelman of The Children's Defense Fund is a liberal - and she excoriated Clinton.  

Similarly, non-liberal "centrists" like the New Republic (which we liberals call corporatist or conservative Dems), harshly criticized Dean in 2003 for rejecting Clinton's attack on liberalism.
http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=20031229&s=lizza122903

Calling Clinton "liberal" is both historically and ideologically inaccurate.  He illustrates PRECISELY the kind of muddy thinking you correctly criticize.  My point is simple: legions of activists and writers have pointed this out consistently.  The fact that they are ignored by American elites does not make them less real.  To call Clinton - or the New York Times - "liberal" is to repeat Republican talking points.  

Cui bono?

by cambridgemac on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 08:46:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Let's be clear that Thomas Freidman is extremely wealthy, even by American standards.  

Writing in the "liberal" New York Times is not how he "earns" his living.   It's his hobby.

If I recall, he actually didn't do anything to "earn" his wealth.   He married it.

He does not live on the same planet as 99.9% of the people who live on Earth.

I only read Freidman's columns when I want to appreciate exactly how poor thinking can be while still being widely distributed.

It is really disturbing that his "ideas" are taken seriously and that people buy his books.   I have often wondered if he doesn't use the L. Ron Hubbard method of making publishing history, i.e. buying his own book in massive quantities to jack up the sales figures.

by NNadir on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 08:19:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One thing which is also downplayed is oil. Soviet Union production peaked in 1986, and started declining therafter - just at a time when oil prices crashed.

That hurt their trade balance violently, and led to massive borrowing (from Germany, mostly), which was coming to an end by 1991. Quite simply, Gorbatchev's Soviet Union was broke, and while it is unknown whether it would have been kept in one piece, it is certain that it was going for hyperinflation and social disaster in 1991.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 03:19:25 PM EST
Did Soviet production really peak, or was it more the case that Soviet investment (in exploration, and in distribution) was horribly lagging and by the late '80's, exacerbated by relatively low commodity prices, oil revenues began to really suffer?

That 2nd cold war imposed on Russia, following the long entente period, was very costly to the Soviet Union, impacting investment in everything else.

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

by r------ on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 04:00:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Oh no, it really did peak. The Soviet Union is the second most explored and most exploited oil "province" (there were several, of course, in such a big country)  in the world, after the USA, and it is also that whose biggest share of available oil has already been produced.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 04:25:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Soviet Union's inability to enter the information age (and thus the modern world economy) left them too dependent on commodity exports for revenue. Manuel Castells did a good analysis of why they failed to do so in this book. A drop in oil revenues could have served as a simple trigger for this deeper problem.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 04:58:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On the financial (union budget) side, several other factors are often quoted.

First, the anti-alcohol campaign of 1986-87. Contrary to a popular belief, it did save a lot of lives: see this mortality graph . However, it dramatically undermined union budget where share of receipts from alcohol trade was in double digits.

Another factor was a movement towards self-governance and workplace democracy that took place in 87-88, combined with lightly regulated cooperative movement. This lead to workers' councils voting for huge wage increases, and managers moving the most profitable assets (or the assets producing the most demanded goods) into cooperatives that used enterprise's energy, management, premises, spare parts at regulated prices, etc., but paid very little back in taxes (this is how future bankers and oligarchs started). The result was much lower profits that could be collected by the union budget.

So, the budget collapsed. When Eltsin started an economic war between Soviet Union and Russia - by promising formerly union-governed enterprises Russian jurisdiction with lower taxes, he was gaining some revenue (but Russian budget expenditures weren't that huge). Union budget was losing a lot, and Gorbachev was in no position to offer a sweeter deal in this race to the bottom.

So, there's a lot to be said on the economic side, and it's mostly internal and has nothing to do with Star Wars  which are often presumed to have bankrupted the Soviet Union.

One could also argue that it was Russia that have undermined USSR (the evil empire) from within. Well-deservedly, traitors don't get laurels for their deeds :-).

by Sargon on Fri Jan 12th, 2007 at 06:37:11 AM EST
[ Parent ]
[The Russian] believe instead, and for good reason, that three "subjective" factors broke it up: the way Gorbachev carried out his political and economic reforms; a power struggle in which Yeltsin overthrew the Soviet state in order to get rid of its president, Gorbachev; and property-seizing Soviet bureaucratic elites, the nomenklatura, who were more interested in "privatizing" the state's enormous wealth in 1991 than in defending it.

Exactly. It's exactly what they say. I usually add Brezhnev's far too long reign, and a far too great allocation of resources to an unwinnable space and military race with the US - to which they agree.

Thanks for this very useful diary, redstar. We will never have enough of those. Unfortunately, I am not sure the average West European analysis is any more accurate than the average American's.

What still has to be written is how the oligarchs actually seized those Soviet assets. I have seen "coupons", which were distributed at the time to everyone, representing shares of those national assets, which of course now have no value.

by balbuz on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 03:47:17 PM EST
You do realize that while Kristoff may be wishing for ponies in Iraq he was a very vocal opponent of the war and after the fall of Baghdad he became a favorite whipping boy of the right for stating that that's all fine and dandy, and he hopes that he was wrong, but that the problems are about to begin.  It is really unfair to group him with Friedman on this issue.
by MarekNYC on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 03:53:37 PM EST
You are absolutely correct in this, and my characterization unfairly ambiguous.

It simply came about because Cohen is surreptitiously citing the both of them...

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

by r------ on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 03:57:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
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
[ Parent ]
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
[ Parent ]
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
[ Parent ]
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
[ Parent ]
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
[ Parent ]
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
[ Parent ]
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
[ Parent ]
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
[ Parent ]
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
[ Parent ]
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
[ Parent ]
great diary!

"Imagine all the people/ Sharing all the world" -- John Lennon
by Cassiodorus on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 05:59:11 PM EST
Thanks!

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill
by r------ on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 06:02:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
of ProgressiveHistorians, a community site dedicated to the intersection of history and politics, I would be honored if you would cross-post this excellent diary there.

The Crolian Progressive: as great an adventure as ever I heard of...
by Nonpartisan on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 06:24:22 PM EST
Redstar...I would encourage you to crosspost!! Or, conversely, I urge Nonpartison to link to this article over there.

"Once in awhile we get shown the light, in the strangest of places, if we look at it right" - Hunter/Garcia
by whataboutbob on Fri Jan 12th, 2007 at 10:48:33 AM EST
[ Parent ]
excellent blogging!

viva ET

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 08:09:00 PM EST
Thanks!

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill
by r------ on Thu Jan 11th, 2007 at 10:44:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks for this diary; I learned a lot from it.

They believe instead, and for good reason, that three "subjective" factors broke it up: the way Gorbachev carried out his political and economic reforms; a power struggle in which Yeltsin overthrew the Soviet state in order to get rid of its president, Gorbachev; and property-seizing Soviet bureaucratic elites, the nomenklatura, who were more interested in "privatizing" the state's enormous wealth in 1991 than in defending it.

I'm way out of my depth here, but what the hell, here's how the above explanation strikes me:

Suppose the U.S. were to collapse in the next few years in a similar sudden fashion as the Soviet Union.  American conservatives might come up with a similarly convenient  theory to explain it that puts the blame on a handful of incompetents, rogues, and fools, while exonerating "The American Way" itself:  "It was because of the way Bush carried out his political and economic reforms and policies and the [some supposed future] chaotic aftermath they entailed."

But if such a collapse of the U.S. were really to happen, Bush (and associated misfits) could only be the proximate cause; the ultimate cause must be one or more systemic problems in the country emerging over the last several decades (massive current account deficit, excessive economic inequality, miseducation of the population, relentlessly growing dependence on energy imports, pension and healthcare systems unable to support growing number of retirees, etc.)

Only such long-term objective problems could create the conditions in which such huge and powerful nations as the U.S. and the Soviet Union become decrepit and vulnerable enough to an abrupt collapse triggered by such '"subjective" factors' as the buffoonery and corruption of a handful of people like Bush, Yeltsin, and their cohorts.

Truth unfolds in time through a communal process.

by marco on Fri Jan 12th, 2007 at 01:53:29 AM EST
Excellent points.

Actually, this diary reminded me quite a bit of what I have read about German attitudes after the second world war. This is purely from memory, but as far as I remember opinion polls in 1950 showed that a majority or large minority of West Germans saw the pre-war Nazi era as a better time to live in than the post-war era, and the nazi ideology as a good idea badly executed. (ie. the war.)

The periods actually have several similarities. Germany went through a complete collapse of the economy and central control after the second world war, the economy went to pieces due to occupation policy, leading to horrible conditions for the ones that could not take part in the "new" economy, ie the black market.

by Trond Ove on Fri Jan 12th, 2007 at 08:50:22 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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