Friday, November 24, 2006
Who Brought Down The Soviet Union?
Was it Reagan, as certain neo-Nazi alcoholics like to claim? Or was it the Soviets themselves, with their stupid insistence on "staying the course" in Afghanistan (unlike the US, which finally got out of Vietnam, which is now in the process of becoming a Westernized, pleasant nation)? Osama thinks it was the latter. (Actually, considering that KGB man Putin is in charge, is the Soviet Union really dead?)
They're basically back to having a czar now, with powers enhanced by Stalinism.
Don't expect any really good Clash cover-bands to come out of Russia anytime soon.
My Russian friends think it is a case of the new boss same as the old boss.
It was Lech Welensa, Havel and the other dissidents that brought down the iron curtain, as assisted by Lane Kirkland. They have never gotten proper credit.
It's dead, all right. There's a Russia left over as the rump, and from what we're seeing, it's not a democracy in any way, shape, form, or fashion.
But the USSR is as dead as Assyria. It wasn't Afghanistan that killed it, either. Though Afghanistan helped, the same way that bleeding didn't kill, but hastened the death, of George Washington.
The USSR was killed as a direct result of 20 years of insane strategic overstretch, and an even more insane proportion of it's GNP sunk into a defense industry that was, like all defense industries everywhere, essentially parasitic upon the economy as a whole.
Buying armies with all the arms production and training and support that implies, is like buying insurance. You can spend yourself into the poorhouse buying insurance you don't need.
Every dollar spent for insurance is a dollar not spent on methods to produce yet more dollars.
For instance, I could sink $X00 into personal life insurance, or I could sink it into information forensics courses.
Make the first choice and the money is gone, until and unless catastrophe happens. Make the second choice and back it with work and skull sweat, and you could be sitting on a nice little business. Forensics geeks don't grow on trees, you know. :)
Between 1965-1966, when the USSR's ruling elites made the decision to build an army that could win a strictly conventional war, and 1986, the USSR was spending somewhere between 20 and 35% of it's GNP on defense, depending on who you believe. At either end of the estimates, this was disastrous. We've been spending far less than this, as a percentage of the GNP, and it has brought us to the very lip of the grave economically. And our economy, and it's governance, was far better tempered to take such shocks than the USSR's command economy was.
By the end, their infrastructure was pretty much shot. Nothing left to build upon. This was the first reason that Western business interests didn't want to invest in the FSU state's fledgling economies. The happy habit the Mafiya (and, of course, the Putin regime) has of assassinating people who cross them was a close second.
Alice Marshall -
No, it wasn't Welensa, Havel and the other dissidents that brought down the Iron curtain. It was the Czechs, as a state (note the reference to Czechoslovakia opening its borders - this was key), with the mute but powerful connivance of Gorbachev. When he said "no troops", he meant it.
Betcha Erich Honecker was surprised. He depended on those Soviet tanks. When they didn't show, it was all over for him.
Mikhail Gorbachev spent a number of years sowing the seeds of what he called "glasnost" ("openness") and "perestroika" (reform). These amounted to an exposure of the corruption, weakness and failure of the Communist system.
More important, the Russian Empire, which became the Soviet Union, was always known as "the prison house of nations." Russia itself was ethnically distinct and far more militaristic than the other nations in that prison. Therefore, any discussion reopened old grievances from the republics that constituted the USSR.
A militarized state has only so much energy to put into repression. With the army in crisis from the Afghan war and all of the republics straining at the leash, and most crucially, with the Russian people aware that Communism was failing to provide either a decent standard of living or freedom, the will to prevent fragmentation was not there.
The Russian people also deserve enormous credit. When those who wanted to continue the repression attempted a coup against Gorbachev, they stood in the street, offering their bodies against that violence.
It is a tragic tale of where empire leads. There is so much more misery yet to come that one cannot but grieve for the Russian people who, after all, did attempt to turn their nation from its brutal ways.
Not an Amen Corner. Not a piece of flypaper for trolls.
An actual discussion, with people bringing differing points of view and evidence to it. The Confederacy of Dunces post that Charles did is turning out much the same way.
I don't care who "wins" or loses. I've learned a bit from everyone who's posted comments, and that's the important thing.
"The Russian people also deserve enormous credit. When those who wanted to continue the repression attempted a coup against Gorbachev, they stood in the street, offering their bodies against that violence."
Well, you can also credit Boris Pugo and the other leaders of the August Coup for doing their part. :P By being idiots, of course.
What they should have done was put Gorbachev up against a wall, pronto. When they failed to do this, they committed a fundamental blunder, and left the door wide open to failure.
Dig up a copy of Luttwak's Coup d'État: A Practical Handbook sometime and go through it. This book is about thirty years old, now, still a classic, and once you've digested it, you can go right down the list, point by point, and spell out the mistakes these people made.
Luttwak did, himself, in a brief "soundbyte" interview that happened very shortly after it was all over.
Of course, what this does is to diagnose the underlying state of intellectual bankruptcy that the Soviet regime had been running on since very shortly after Lenin's original coup in 1917.
You could also hand the same sort of backhanded "credit" to the regime itself.
It wasn't enough to have murdered somewhere around 15 million Ukrainians during the Terror-Famine of 1932-33. NoooOOOooo. They had to rub salt in the wound by playing "cover it up and hope it will go away" when Chernobyl Reactor number 4 went south on April 26, 1986.
So guess what happened when the time rolled around to vote on the Second Union Treaty? Who put in the black ball? Yup, the delegation from the Ukraine.
It didn't matter that a kid who was as close as needs be to a Ukrainian himself, Nikita Khruschev, had risen to the post of Premier. The bottom line was that the system had proven, yet once again, that it couldn't be trusted.
But then, the sort of brittle "we cannot make mistakes" attitude the USSR's ruling elites displayed in response to Chernobyl, the shootdown of KAL 007, the Sverdlovsk disaster, and a whole string of spectacularly failed megaprojects, is typical of authoritarian regimes. We see this in the PRC all the time.
And, of course, we see this on exhibit just about every single time a Bush Regime spokesperson opens his or her mouth in public.
I think there's a fundamental pattern. Centralization of power leads to corruption, corruption leads to inefficiencies, and inefficiencies lead to a diminished standard of living. I think it's possible in theory for an efficient, non-corrupt, and possibly even democratic Communist state to exist. The problem is that the organizational structure of Communism tends toward centralization and totalitarianism; this is a flaw shared by corporatism.
So, what breaks the tendency toward centralization? Ultimately, it's economic breakdown, acting both directly through alienation of the populace and indirectly by weakening the repressive force of the state. When people feel that their lives are equally in danger from supporting the system as from opposing it, the end is near.
So, yeah, there's plenty of credit to go around. The dopes are often a necessary part of the solution.
More blogs about politics.