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Everything You Think You Know About the Collapse of the Soviet Union Is Wrong
June 25, 2011 3:19 AM   Subscribe


 
You know, I think all this time they've been playing 'possum.
posted by eegphalanges at 3:30 AM on June 25, 2011


Nobody expects to hear about the Soviet collapse from the Spanish Inquisition!
posted by schmod at 3:30 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Or, if it really is surely dead, perhaps it was Elton John's fault.
posted by eegphalanges at 3:35 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Every government that has collapsed recently or is in the process of collapsing is collapsing for reasons that have nothing to do with ideological objectives. The world is changing technologically much faster than Marx or Jesus could have predicted. The Mid-East is warping because kids there have Twitter and YouTube. The pace of change is wiping out age-old ways of thinking, far quicker than any politburo could.

The Soviet Union collapsed because of 8-track tapes, TV remote controls, Pop-Tarts, and a zillion other ways to enjoy the future.
posted by twoleftfeet at 3:48 AM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Soviet Union collapsed because of 8-track tapes, TV remote controls, Pop-Tarts, and a zillion other ways to enjoy the future.

You mean consumerism killed the Soviet Star?
posted by BYiro at 3:59 AM on June 25, 2011 [8 favorites]


Interesting that there's no mention of Chernobyl, which was the first time that all of Russia got to hear about and see the lethal ineptness of the system.

Up until then Gorby had huge popular support. After that it began to slide.
posted by bonaldi at 4:00 AM on June 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


The Soviet Union wasn't Russia, it was the Russian empire under a communist guise. Remember "Gorby" wanted to modernise the Soviet Union to make it stronger, he didn't want it to collapse or break up or for the Communist Party to lose control. The Communists gained power by the gun and held it by terror, the only reason they ever held power was that they were willing and able to massacre as many people as it took to stay there. The Chinese - or any other communist party - aren't any different. The wider empire collapsed like a house of cards when the occupied countries of Eastern Europe took to the streets and their puppet governments weren't willing or able to machine gun everyone and the Soviet Union collapsed a couple of years later after the failed coup and Yeltsin's heroism in opposing it. He's seen as a buffoon but without him it would have been business as usual - like it increasingly is today in Putin's horrible autocracy.
posted by joannemullen at 4:11 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I was 10 in 1985, and I'm pretty sure I knew it was coming. I mean, food lines in the bread basket of Europe? Wasn't the revolution the end game of Perestroika? They knew their game was over, and they could either figure out a way to engineer a soft revolution, or get their heads chopped off. I think they were pretty successful.

(And as a child of the 80's, where Gorbechev was simultaneously a guy that could be trusted and seemed to have the long term future of the USSR in mind, he was also The Enemy. That's what conventional wisdom and Ronnie would have us believe. Anyway, Gorbechev was on a speaking tour sometime around 2000, and I went to see him speak. Holy shit, I'm in a gymnasium in Lisle, IL, listening to him talk, and holy double shit, he just walked 10 feet past me. This was and is still a mind fuck for me.)
posted by gjc at 4:12 AM on June 25, 2011 [6 favorites]


I guess my point is: what's the article's point? That IS everything I knew about the fall of the USSR. Who thinks any differently?
posted by gjc at 4:15 AM on June 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


This article gets things wrong in so many ways it's not even funny. To begin with, there's no mention of the system's increasing reliance on oil prices to stay afloat, which proved disastrous after the early '80s; there's no mention of the massive hidden military budget; there's no mention of the failure of the agricultural system and the growing dependence on food imports from the West after the '70s.

As far as the argument about the role of ideas, it's very thin and not supported by opinion poll data, which is just about the most reliable source we have on popular attitudes towards the collapse. And like all of these self-flattering articles about the evil evilness of Putinism, it totally dismisses millions of Russian people's actual experiences of the 1990s, which involved not the majestic moral sweep of freedom and democracy blah blah blah but famine--famine!--and complete social disintegration. This kind of feel-good bullshit has unfortunately been shaping the discourse for so long that it's almost impossible to have a serious conversation about it with non-specialists.

Kotkin's Armageddon Averted is still the best book on the subject for the general reader, so if you're interested you should check that out.
posted by nasreddin at 4:17 AM on June 25, 2011 [51 favorites]


I read Armageddon in Prime Time when it came out in 1984, and was telling everyone who would listen that we had already won the Cold War, that the Soviet Union was fucked, and that it was only a matter of time before it collapsed.

The reasons were purely economic. Oil was much of it, and inability to meet basic consumer needs of its citizens.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:25 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not to mention that the author is a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, which, not to make this too ad hominem, is not exactly known for its reality-based approach to communist and post-communist regimes.
posted by nasreddin at 4:28 AM on June 25, 2011 [23 favorites]


This is a very insightful piece that shows the Soviet collapse from a completely different angle than one would expect.

The collapse is coming from inside the house!
posted by doublehappy at 4:29 AM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


The Berlin Wall came down because MTV had a signal that reached across some stupid wall. Kids in Eastern Europe saw the advantage of partying to a western disco beat.

The same thing is happening right now in the Mideast. It's almost impossible to keep a populace subjugated to a nationally reinforced regimen of repression when kids can YouTube more interesting alternatives.

Play me out keyboard cat, Über Alles.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:30 AM on June 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


I can't hide my worthlessness, F**k!
Hopefully stye eyed Americans will help me.
posted by Mblue at 4:31 AM on June 25, 2011


The Berlin Wall came down because MTV had a signal that reached across some stupid wall. Kids in Eastern Europe saw the advantage of partying to a western disco beat.


That's not really true, and is yet another example of the feel-good bullshit that I mentioned. Read Yurchak's Everything Was Forever Until It Was No More; aside from being an amazing book it's got a great account of how Soviet young people didn't see their appreciation of Western rock music as in any way conflicting with Soviet ideals.
posted by nasreddin at 4:34 AM on June 25, 2011 [15 favorites]


Another member of Gorbachev's very small original coterie of liberalizers, Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, was just as pained by ubiquitous lawlessness and corruption. He recalls telling Gorbachev in the winter of 1984-1985: "Everything is rotten. It has to be changed."

And funnily enough, this is why I really like Eastern Europeans and Russians so much. The lingering corruption and skepticism that living under a big lie forced on people has created a much healthier and more realistic relation with the government than people in the West generally have. Westerners (in general) believe that government is looking out for their best interests; Easterners know this to be false.

It's all bullshit.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:38 AM on June 25, 2011 [13 favorites]


And funnily enough, this is why I really like Eastern Europeans and Russians so much. The lingering corruption and skepticism that living under a big lie forced on people has created a much healthier and more realistic relation with the government than people in the West generally have. Westerners (in general) believe that government is looking out for their best interests; Easterners know this to be false.

Thank you. I've believed this for years but I've never been able to get anyone outside Eastern Europe to understand what I'm talking about.
posted by nasreddin at 4:40 AM on June 25, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'm really tired of titles like Everything You Think You Know About x Is Wrong and The x That Changed the World. I poop on titles like How the Irish Saved Civilization: The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role From the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe and How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World and Everything in It. If you can't get past the title without misrepresenting your subject, why am I supposed to read the rest?
posted by pracowity at 4:43 AM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


This seems like a curious POV: "And Reality Be Damned... Undoing America: What media didn't tell you about the end of the Cold War and the fall of communism in Europe."

I like the notion of KGB demoralizing the West by pretending to be dead; it keeps the old paranoid torch burning. Has anyone poked it with a stick to make sure it's dead?
posted by eegphalanges at 4:44 AM on June 25, 2011


Once upon a time, all spoke fantasy.
Then they expunged all heretics
Kinetic energy.
.
posted by Mblue at 4:46 AM on June 25, 2011


I'm going to stick with my point that technological change is vastly more transformative than the political ideologies from the previous millennium.

I think that what we are seeing today in the Middle East is an acute parallel of what happened in the Soviet Union; that new forms of information flow are contributing more towards positive social disruption than previous ideological formulations.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:48 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]



I'm going to stick with my point that technological change is vastly more transformative than the political ideologies from the previous millennium.

I think that what we are seeing today in the Middle East is an acute parallel of what happened in the Soviet Union; that new forms of information flow are contributing more towards positive social disruption than previous ideological formulations.


Sounds like handwaving to me. What information flow? Soviet people had been listening to Western radio broadcasts for decades; jamming was sporadic, ineffective, and highly localized. MTV alone is a pretty thin basis for that kind of argument unless you're a true believer.
posted by nasreddin at 4:52 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The Mid-East is warping because kids there have Twitter and YouTube.

That statement is really, very much untrue.

The idea that the protests/inchoate democracy movements/opposition wars currently going on in the middle east have no precedent is really some crazy amnesia on behalf of western powers. It's amnesia, because we don't want to remember that the last time there were lots at once, they were fighting us.
posted by smoke at 4:53 AM on June 25, 2011 [14 favorites]


In power is....
History
Not yet known
Or realized
posted by Mblue at 4:54 AM on June 25, 2011


The article says that Gorby tried giving his people a little bit of freedom and they got away from him. This is hardly a novel interpretation, and the author did not need a.padded 10,000 word article to say it. It could have been a tweet.
posted by LarryC at 4:56 AM on June 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


REAGAN DID IT.
posted by kcds at 4:59 AM on June 25, 2011


Podium of kcds,
Yell and CAPS
pfft, prepare, prepare
posted by Mblue at 5:04 AM on June 25, 2011


smoke: That statement is really, very much untrue.

No, it's not.

It's not at all necessary that everybody everywhere experience the transformative power of a new technology. It's only necessary that people know it exists.

Politically, if I believe that social progress completely depends on my current political structure, then I will reinforce that structure. But if I am even modestly aware of alternatives, then I can assume there are alternatives.

Everybody who lives in a small town with no TV or radio or Internet can assume that the whole world is no different than they are. When one guy gets a radio (or TV or Internet) and mentions it to others, the illusion of sameness is destroyed.
posted by twoleftfeet at 5:05 AM on June 25, 2011


'Everything I thought I knew" includes that it was during summer break from freshman/sophomore year at Eugene Lang College, my wealthy-leftist New School Pinko Academie Extraordinaire, and I was at a cottage with no television. I saw nor heard not a lick of it. When I got back to New York City, all the red-diaper babies were sorely disappointed and confused. Even then, I thought the whole thing had a peculiar, ahistorical stink to it. The end of history, what was that all about, then...(pisses self with laughter).

I dropped out and moved back to Podunk, and visited the city in 1993: there were Russians everywhere. Who won, again? Still waiting for consensus reality to catch up and give me the news--Hah!
posted by eegphalanges at 5:06 AM on June 25, 2011


Everybody who lives in a small town with no TV or radio or Internet
is a fantasy.
posted by Mblue at 5:09 AM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


Mr. Krushchev said we will bury you
I don't subscribe to this point of view
It would be such an ignorant thing to do
If the Russians love their money too
posted by bwg at 5:10 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


bwg jokes
too money and too
future money is ignorant too
Future too a shoe
posted by Mblue at 5:15 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Politically, if I believe that social progress completely depends on my current political structure, then I will reinforce that structure. But if I am even modestly aware of alternatives, then I can assume there are alternatives.

Everybody who lives in a small town with no TV or radio or Internet can assume that the whole world is no different than they are. When one guy gets a radio (or TV or Internet) and mentions it to others, the illusion of sameness is destroyed.


Although it definitely wasn't the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia had rock and roll since the 1950s and an evolving youth culture generally in touch with the West. But its demise was caused by age-old ethnic differences and unresolved tensions between federal and state. Catholic priests and folk singers were far more revolutionary than punks or discotheques. Sometimes the past is more powerful than the future.
posted by Jehan at 5:16 AM on June 25, 2011 [10 favorites]


And funnily enough, this is why I really like Eastern Europeans and Russians so much. The lingering corruption and skepticism that living under a big lie forced on people has created a much healthier and more realistic relation with the government than people in the West generally have. Westerners (in general) believe that government is looking out for their best interests; Easterners know this to be false.

Lukashenko's 17-year-long (and going) dictatorship in Belarus would counter your fuzzy feelings there. Not to mention the cult of personality surrounding Putin.
posted by litnerd at 5:19 AM on June 25, 2011


"For Hegel, all human behavior in the material world, and hence all human history, is rooted in a prior state of consciousness ....This consciousness may not be explicit and self-aware, as are modern political doctrines, but may rather take the form of religion or simple cultural or moral habits. And yet this realm of consciousness in the long run necessarily becomes manifest in the material world, indeed creates the material world in its own image. Consciousness is cause and not effect, and can develop autonomously from the material world; hence the real subtext underlying the apparent jumble of current events is the history of ideology.

Hegel's idealism has fared poorly at the hands of later thinkers. Marx reversed the priority of the real and the ideal completely, relegating the entire realm of consciousness - religion, art, culture, philosophy itself - to a 'superstructure' that was determined entirely by the prevailing material mode of production. Yet another unfortunate legacy of Marxism is our tendency to retreat into materialist or utilitarian explanations of political or historical phenomena, and our disinclination to believe in the autonomous power of ideas"--Francis Fukuyama, "The End of History?"
posted by eegphalanges at 5:19 AM on June 25, 2011


Sometimes the past is more powerful than the future.
Sometimes it drives the future.
posted by Mblue at 5:22 AM on June 25, 2011


Communism is doomed to failure owing to its fundamental disregard for people wanting income commensurate with their effort.

It may be a simplistic view but who can argue that folks don't want to be paid a fair amount for the work put in?

This is why China is slowly but surely turning away from hardcore Communist ideals in favour of wealth creation. They would be blind not to see what happened to the Soviet Union and carry on down the same path.

Will over a billion people, and given its long history of uprisings against the ruling elite, the current leaders know better than to piss off the populace.
posted by bwg at 5:25 AM on June 25, 2011


Communism is doomed to failure owing to its fundamental disregard for people wanting income commensurate with their effort.

It may be a simplistic view but who can argue that folks don't want to be paid a fair amount for the work put in?


Arguing the merits or demerits of communism (or socialism or Marxism) is probably too simplistic in abstract for explaining the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, I have to respond that it's exactly the desire for people to be rewarded for their efforts that socialism came about. The argument is that workers add more value to a product than the reward they receive, and capital effectively deprives labor of its fair share.
posted by Jehan at 5:30 AM on June 25, 2011 [22 favorites]


Revolution isn't marble, it's sand. It becomes what face the tide of history shapes it. I hope I live long enough to see what a billion people become.
posted by Mblue at 5:34 AM on June 25, 2011


Mblue, are you the singularity?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:44 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


I too found this article to be problematic, for many of the same reasons others have mentioned.

I'd add that what jumped out at me was the reliance the author places on Soviet economic growth figures, which we now know to have been almost entirely made up. If real income and real GDP were growing, even slowly, there shouldn't have been bread lines or the sort of widespread economic deprivation that Soviet citizens experienced.

I'm putting my money on the idea that the mass of the people in 1989 were very much like the mass of the people in 1917: more concerned with where their next meal was coming from than with any kind of "moral consciousness."
posted by valkyryn at 5:45 AM on June 25, 2011


Lukashenko's 17-year-long (and going) dictatorship in Belarus would counter your fuzzy feelings there. Not to mention the cult of personality surrounding Putin.

Actually, there's no contradiction here. People in Russia may trust Putin, but that doesn't mean they trust the government. They know that it's corrupt; they know that all its members and representatives are only working in their own best interest. The ruling party, United Russia, is openly called "the party of thieves and crooks". The reason why there is a cult of Putin is because Putin does not represent the state or the government (gosudarstvo); he represents power (vlast'), and his cult of personality is nothing else but a cult of power. Power is worshiped because having power means having the ability to make things happen, to get them done. And Putin is always doing something: no matter whether he's driving a racing car or opening a factory, he's always active. The government, on the other hand, is passive; the only thing it is capable of actually doing is protecting its own interests.
posted by daniel_charms at 5:48 AM on June 25, 2011 [12 favorites]


Jehan: "However, I have to respond that it's exactly the desire for people to be rewarded for their efforts that socialism came about. The argument is that workers add more value to a product than the reward they receive, and capital effectively deprives labor of its fair share."

Yeah, but that didn't work so well in China. As I once wrote on my web site:

"In Cantonese the expression daaih wohk fan (大鑊飯); literally big pan rice, is a reference to Mao Zedong's forced collective farming policy under the Great Leap Forward, in which everyone earned the same income regardless of effort, which resulted in not only great dissatisfaction among workers but a massive famine that killed between 20 to 30 million people."

"Economic reforms have rendered the original sentiment outdated, but anyone using the term today still means that they are unhappy with the concept of equal reward with no regard to contribution."
posted by bwg at 5:49 AM on June 25, 2011


It may be a simplistic view but who can argue that folks don't want to be paid a fair amount for the work put in?

The only problem is, they can't seem to agree on what a fair amount is; generally, it seems that everyone would like to be paid more than fair share for the work they do.
posted by daniel_charms at 5:53 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


And funnily enough, this is why I really like Eastern Europeans and Russians so much. The lingering corruption and skepticism that living under a big lie forced on people has created a much healthier and more realistic relation with the government than people in the West generally have. Westerners (in general) believe that government is looking out for their best interests; Easterners know this to be false.

The flipside of this is that, where everyone knows that the government is comprised of crooks, corruption is a lot higher because people distrust civil institutions, and the civil institutions remain corrupt because that's what's expected of them. Good governance is like a fiat currency; if one believes it to be worthless, it becomes worthless.

The effect, incidentally, survives over generations. A recent study has shown that trust in government is higher and corruption is lower in towns that were under the Habsburg Empire 100 years ago than in nearby towns (in the same country) which were ruled by, say, the Ottomans or the Russians, largely because the Habsburg civil service was less kleptocratic than in the other states.

So yes, every time I see a statement saying something like "why bother, politicians are all crooks, they're all the same", I worry that the wide acceptance of such cynicism could become a self-fulfilling prophesy, an unanswerable, legendarily crooked kleptocracy ruling over a powerless populace consoling itself with hard drink, gallows humour and a thousand conspiracy theories.
posted by acb at 5:54 AM on June 25, 2011 [31 favorites]


singularity?
Is this a way to negate or a question? Potomac Avenue
posted by Mblue at 5:56 AM on June 25, 2011


This is a propaganda piece that is trying to draw parallels between our current economic and political situation in the USA. The thesis seems to be that a well intentioned liberalizing leader and an economy that was stumbling along with manageable budget deficits was driven to collapse by a moral backlash against state corruption and grar socialism. The salvation is apparently old fashioned conservative economic America with tough, but moral leaders.

I will leave tearing the authors bogus arguments to shreads as an exercise for others. Start with looking at the assertions regarding economic data, budget deficits and opinion polls, move on to the allegation that "no one saw it[the collapse] coming.".
posted by humanfont at 5:57 AM on June 25, 2011 [18 favorites]


daniel_charms: "It may be a simplistic view but who can argue that folks don't want to be paid a fair amount for the work put in?

The only problem is, they can't seem to agree on what a fair amount is; generally, it seems that everyone would like to be paid more than fair share for the work they do.
"

Heh, don't we all?
posted by bwg at 5:59 AM on June 25, 2011


[We] stole from ourselves, took and gave bribes, lied in the reports, in newspapers, from high podiums, wallowed in our lies, hung medals on one another. And all of this -- from top to bottom and from bottom to top.
well, what empire with economic and political problems is this quote referring to?

forced collective farming policy...in which everyone earned the same income regardless of effort, which resulted in not only great dissatisfaction among workers but a massive famine that killed between 20 to 30 million people.

this is a canard... think of a large vertically integrated corporation i.e. any modern corporate workplace. Do you get paid more than your peer if you work harder? maybe in sales, but hardly anywhere else. forced collectivization failed because a) the policy particulars were batshit insane b) in China and the USSR it was also a *political* program to wipe out resistance to the regime in the hinterlands. when people talk about the "collapse of the family farm" in the US they are talking about the de facto collectivization of american agriculture: farmers becoming effectively employees in vast agricultural congolmerates. and besides, the price for agricultural commodities is the farther thing from a free market in the U.S., aside from whether you want to argue about the connection between wages and productivity.

also, for a better view of the economic, political, and social roots of the collapse of the USSR everyone should read Red Plenty.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:03 AM on June 25, 2011 [9 favorites]


I will leave tearing the authors bogus arguments to shreads as an exercise for others. Start with looking at the assertions regarding economic data, budget deficits and opinion polls, move on to the allegation that "no one saw it[the collapse] coming.".

Like it or not, unless you pass, your involved. Ignore isn't a button that creates or destroys.
posted by Mblue at 6:05 AM on June 25, 2011


more concerned with where their next meal was coming from than with any kind of "moral consciousness."

Yep. Well-fed, well-shod, well-housed babies with clean diapers and enough toys to keep them busy don't cry, and well-fed, well-shod, well-housed populations with decent sanitary conditions and enough toys to keep them busy don't revolt. The reason so many were ready to go wasn't that they shared an idea but that they were in the same shitty economic circumstances.

It took just a few people to get fed up enough (or backed far enough into a corner) to make them challenge their government, and then everyone in similar circumstances realized that they, too, could go shopping across the border.
posted by pracowity at 6:18 AM on June 25, 2011


The arguments that the USSR depended too heavily on oil, or their hidden military budget was too big, or that rock-and-roll came to wherever, while true, don't get to the essence of revolution, I don't think. I've read many times of the systemic problems of the USSR; one that always intrigued me was how they compartmentalized their economy in an attempt to make everything cohesive - we'll make tractors in Poland and cars in Whateverstan and grow beets in...

And, yet, that was a sustainable system for 60+ years. It wasn't a great system, but it was manageable by the elite and the police. Determination and a willingness to use force can accomplish a lot.

Revolution - an attempt to fundamentally change a system- can only come about when ideas come to the forefront. The mass of people have to fundamentally believe that they have a better idea and that they have the will to make it happen. I can't see it happening any other way. You can point to externalities all you want. Externalities can hasten the peoples' though process, definitely. But the idea has to grow to cause change.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:21 AM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]



And, yet, that was a sustainable system for 60+ years. It wasn't a great system, but it was manageable by the elite and the police. Determination and a willingness to use force can accomplish a lot.


And yet
sixty years taken
Forced to other
posted by Mblue at 6:26 AM on June 25, 2011


Ok, so how will the Western capitalist empire collapse? Any idea?

A guess: huge private and public debt can't be restructured (delayed) enough, compound interests works "its magic" making it unmanageable but in infinite time, derivatives enable making huge nominal bets without having but a puny fraction of it, investments and consumption slow down to a freeze because nobody wants to have any more debt whatsoever. Default ensues, who's going to pay for it? Obviously the population: huge social unrest.
posted by elpapacito at 6:29 AM on June 25, 2011


A guess: huge private and public debt can't be restructured (delayed) enough, compound interests works "its magic" making it unmanageable but in infinite time, derivatives enable making huge nominal bets without having but a puny fraction of it, investments and consumption slow down to a freeze because nobody wants to have any more debt whatsoever. Default ensues, who's going to pay for it? Obviously the population: huge social unrest.

Name one were this happened. I want a Nation and a Leader.
posted by Mblue at 6:40 AM on June 25, 2011


You mean it wasn't Reagan saying "Tear down this wall"?

Hm. I wonder what else Sean Hannity may have gotten wrong.
posted by Trurl at 6:46 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


Name one were this happened. I want a Nation and a Leader.
That's a tad close to a Saviour.
posted by elpapacito at 6:51 AM on June 25, 2011


You mean it wasn't Reagan saying "Tear down this wall"?


What's your point? Are you denying Reagan said that? Are you pitifully saying someone I never mentioned is my foil? Is you're argument that weak?
posted by Mblue at 6:54 AM on June 25, 2011


That's a tad close to a Saviour.

That's what was implied, read, then comment.
posted by Mblue at 6:56 AM on June 25, 2011


I'm certain the bulk of prehistory is Homo erectus with the same hand axe for 1 million years, as the BBC just told me. Someone came along with a bigger brain and a better axe. This really happened: I saw it on the news.

I have loads of debt and not much social unrest. There is a plate of sameness I find comforting and filling. If I don't make the cut in the Western Survival Winner Sweepstakes, I hope my death is painless, quickly forgotten, and political-ideology-free. And if I can't have that, then at least may my demise and that of the Free Market economy serve to amuse someone half a world away on the internet.

I don't know why things happen as they do or if indeed they happen as we are taught that they to have happened. Even if we all agreed on the chain of events, we still wouldn't know any better as to why these things occur to us dirty apes. And if we didn't disagree, things wouldn't happen as they do, but would happen some other way, instead. But, do choose your point-of-view carefully, you know.

Spiritus mundi.
posted by eegphalanges at 7:05 AM on June 25, 2011


But the idea has to grow to cause change.

The idea being: "My life situation is crappy, my neighbors life situation in crappy, the top guys are doing very well and care nothing for my goodwill, and if we topple them things will change for the better".
posted by Omon Ra at 7:06 AM on June 25, 2011


Mblue, you're threadshitting. Please go outside for a while.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 7:07 AM on June 25, 2011


TheNewWazoo

Sorry for that. Thanks for the exit.
posted by Mblue at 7:11 AM on June 25, 2011


Ok, so how will the Western capitalist empire collapse? Any idea?

Overcomplexity leading to a structural inability to respond to challenges? That's how all empires end in one way or another.
posted by Jehan at 7:13 AM on June 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


History Class. And I'm out of here, too!
posted by eegphalanges at 7:17 AM on June 25, 2011


We are way too close to the 1989 revolution to be able to come at it with anything like objectivity. I don't believe in unbiased history--even the best and most professional historian trying hard to be objective comes at a subject with biases, if just in selecting ideas to consider--but the history of the fall of the Soviet Union is still too close to home and has too many implications for present-day politics for anyone to look at its causes without imposing their own paradigm of modern politics on it.

Having said that, and with awareness of my own biases from having lived through the period (the Berlin Wall fell the year I graduated from college), I wonder if the fall of the Soviet Union isn't like the French Revolution in that we'll be watching later spasms of it for the rest of our lives, a la Napoleon and the return of the monarchy and so on and so forth down past 1848. Overturning an ancien regime doesn't happen overnight. There's a lot of momentum to overturn even in the 70 years between 1918 and 1989, without even getting into the ways in which Soviet governance and ideology responded to the tsars (or the outside economic and social influences people are talking about here, or anything else).
posted by immlass at 7:29 AM on June 25, 2011 [3 favorites]


This whole essay is built on a false premise. There was no meaningful revolution. It's former members of the Soviet elite and their kids who are still running the country as we speak. Nothing's changed for the general populace except that their rights to medical care, education and (shitty, but functioning) housing has been removed. Life expectancy is fucking worse in modern Russia than it was under Communism and yet its seen as progress.

Here's what happened, in a simplistic description:

Some of the wealthy elite decided that they weren't getting rich enough in a closed economy. They realized that they could pacify the populace more effectively by stapling up a thin veneer of freedom while they privatized all the state-built infrastructure by way of selling it off to their buddies and simultaneously built an economy designed to do more for lining their pockets than stealing shared internal wealth ever could.

Then they decided to clean house with the coup. This gave the illusion of distancing future government from the Central Committee and making a fresh start where the abuses of the past were blamed on historical figures, and not the people taking over who just moments ago had been ideological companions of those historical monsters.

"Yay! Communism's over! We're going to have elections! We'll totally be counting the votes but there's no corruption anymore so you can trust us! We're going to be free now. 'Free' means that you can potentially purchase consumer goods that weren't designed and manufactured by gibbons, and you can watch sitcoms instead of watching ballet and playing god damn chess. Backpacks for your children with cartoon characters on them, just like your cousin in Toronto has for his kids! Doesn't that sound fucking sweet?"

Then when the mic was off, they said "Of course, most of you still aren't going to have the money to buy anything except turnips, rags and methanol. But a plutocracy's an easier sell when people can aspire to step over their neighbor's corpse to join it instead of that 'we're all in this together' bullshit. And we won't actually provide free speech or free elections. We're not idiots; the idiots are those grimy people out there. Their lives are going to be virtually unchanged because they're still going to have jack shit and they're still going to have to be careful about how loud they complain. Hey guys, who wants an oil refinery?"

A regime change doesn't always equal a revolution. A revolution causes a fundamental shift in how government works. The "revolution" in question caused as much change for the ordinary Russian citizen as Bush I taking over for Reagan did for Americans.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:44 AM on June 25, 2011 [19 favorites]


spoiler alert! it wasn't Reagan!!!
posted by kuppajava at 8:21 AM on June 25, 2011


>>And funnily enough, this is why I really like Eastern Europeans and Russians so much. The lingering corruption and skepticism that living under a big lie forced on people has created a much healthier and more realistic relation with the government than people in the West generally have. Westerners (in general) believe that government is looking out for their best interests; Easterners know this to be false.

>Thank you. I've believed this for years but I've never been able to get anyone outside Eastern Europe to understand what I'm talking about.


Coming back to this, I think the way this thing actually works is that people in the West believe that by acting in certain ways, they can make the government act in their best interest, whereas we here in Eastern Europe are have been so disillusioned by the changes that took place in the nineties, changes that were supposed to make life better for everyone but didn't, that we just don't even bother anymore.
posted by daniel_charms at 8:40 AM on June 25, 2011


It is surprising that The American Enterprise Institute, the ultimate conservative think tank, was behind an article that didn't think Reagan had a damn thing to do with the Soviet "collapse" or whatever you want to call the events under discussion here. Reductionist theories are always suspect, of course, and the premise that Gorbachev and his homies had a moral revelation that their system was Stalin Lite is a little too ideologically single-minded, as think tanks tend to be, to be swallowed whole. (It dovetails nicely with the plutocratic/military conservatism which is the Republican party's MO...and to a sad extent, the Democrats' as well.) Still, interesting perspective.
posted by kozad at 8:50 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Overcomplexity leading to a structural inability to respond to challenges?"

I wonder. Mostly I think it's the same problem the USSR had: a state-supported inability to come to terms with economic and environmental realities. I don't really see this as overly complex, but more an institutional ability to ignore signs and portents for ideological reasons. Am I wrong that the current US government has a huge blind spot wrt climate change, for example?
posted by sneebler at 9:25 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


it totally dismisses millions of Russian people's actual experiences of the 1990s, which involved not the majestic moral sweep of freedom and democracy blah blah blah but famine--famine!--and complete social disintegration.

I stopped reading this thread and abandoned my intentions of reading this article after this statement from nasreddin. Anyone who has been to Russia and talked to actual Russians and hasn't learned this (and the fact that many many many people hate Gorbachev) was probably unable to handle the vodka and drunk most of the time.
posted by spicynuts at 9:31 AM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Go and watch Adam Curtis "Pandora's Box" episode "The Engineer's Plot" to understand why the Soviet Union collapsed.
posted by homodigitalis at 10:14 AM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


The sudden fall of the Berlin Wall was the main catalyst to the fall of the Soviet Union. Apparently, it was a bureaucratic mistake that nobody wanted to be accountable for, so it was allowed to happen.
posted by Brian B. at 10:21 AM on June 25, 2011


It is surprising that The American Enterprise Institute, the ultimate conservative think tank, was behind an article that didn't think Reagan had a damn thing to do with the Soviet "collapse" or whatever you want to call the events under discussion here. Reductionist theories are always suspect, of course, and the premise that Gorbachev and his homies had a moral revelation that their system was Stalin Lite

The weird thing about reading this article is, all that was sort of a conventional-wisdom line in the US back in the early '90s, before the project of Reagan Won The Cold War picked up steam, and seeing it picked up now as a "contrarian" take on that part of history is disorienting.
posted by furiousthought at 10:35 AM on June 25, 2011 [4 favorites]


There's no denying that they had an epic economic collapse, but more often that not that doesn't topple regimes -- Mugabe clings on despite being in a more parlous condition than the Soviets ever were, and there are countless other examples. There were millions starving under Stalin, too.

Generally what leads to the collapse of a leader is a key factor like the economy combining with a degree of liberalisation or otherwise softening of the regime. When people begin to think they won't be immediately killed for protesting, the protests begin. The Berlin Wall was by far the biggest sign that the party no longer had the stomach to properly stifle dissent.

But to be honest, even this is too simplistic. It didn't implode for any single reason (especially not a trite one like MTV). It implode because a number of improbable things all coincided, not least of which was Gorbachev himself.
posted by bonaldi at 12:07 PM on June 25, 2011


One thing leaps out at me as a great lesson for the states, the attitude of the people during this soft revolution.

"Everything is rotten. It has to be changed."
posted by Slackermagee at 1:18 PM on June 25, 2011


I think if we were to distill the cause of the collapse into its essence - one singular thing, though there are many disparate causes - it failed because the leadership, Gorbachev in particular, were true believers in Communism. Gorbachev simply didn't expect that perestroika and glasnost would lead to the undoing of the Soviet state. It was literally inconceivable.

Gorbachev didn't realize that the state was built on fantasy. If he had any idea of it, he certainly didn't realize how flimsy it was. Nobody did.

If you are too young to remember it happening, let me tell you. It cannot be understated how incredibly profound a change came about in the world in such an incredibly short amount of time. And largely peacefully, also amazing.

Sadly, the United States started down the path to tyranny. It's not too late to turn this thing around, folks. It's not inevitable.
posted by Xoebe at 4:33 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


One thing leaps out at me as a great lesson for the states, the attitude of the people during this soft revolution.

"Everything is rotten. It has to be changed."


Makes you feel good, don't it? Sure worked out well for the Russians.
posted by nasreddin at 4:35 PM on June 25, 2011


This classic post on software development is, if you change the appropriate terms, actually a fantastic essay on the historical experience of "everything is rotten, it has to be changed" style thinking.
posted by nasreddin at 4:40 PM on June 25, 2011 [1 favorite]


That analogy only really works if you have access to the source code.
posted by deadwax at 5:51 PM on June 25, 2011


Ok, so how will the Western capitalist empire collapse? Any idea?

Mail Order Husbands.
posted by eegphalanges at 6:07 PM on June 25, 2011 [2 favorites]


Why look to the AEI for answers? More likely somebody who has studied and practiced bringing down dictatorships would have answers than a conservative think tank specializing in upward transfer of wealth.

Try Gene Sharp at the Albert Einstein Institution. Much more likely to have a clue.

Authoritarian regimes absolutely require unquestioning obedience by a majority of the population, when they are deprived of it, things collapse. All governments, even the most violently repressive dictatorships, are dependent of the consent of the governed. Withdraw that consent and the government falls. Sometimes into more of the same hands, sometimes into civil war, sometimes into a more just system, but absent consent, it cannot continue as before.
posted by warbaby at 9:12 AM on June 26, 2011


Xoebe: I think if we were to distill the cause of the collapse into its essence - one singular thing, though there are many disparate causes - it failed because the leadership, Gorbachev in particular, were true believers in Communism. Gorbachev simply didn't expect that perestroika and glasnost would lead to the undoing of the Soviet state. It was literally inconceivable.

Although I agree to a large extent with Mayor Curley (with the caveat he noted and that he phrased it very snarkily), I think that Gorbachev may not have been one of the elites who saw personal wealth opportunities in the new system. However, I do not think he was a true believer in Communism or Marxism at all by the eighties. I think his idealism lay in the idea that he could put a bit of the much-vaunted "wealth creation" of capitalism into the Soviet Union and create a mixed market society along with a welfare state on the Northern European model. Instead, there was far more "shock treatment" than Gorbachev imagined the new system would implement, since it would have gotten rid of full employment even if it had entered Gorbachev's imagined system, even if that system had okay welfare cheques.

Finally, a deciding factor in the USSR's collapse was the increasingly huge black market. You can claim and structure whatever you want as the official model of distribution, but if people aren't actually using that, central planning becomes a joke than it already was in the Soviet Union.
posted by Gnatcho at 9:03 PM on June 26, 2011


The article is probably only enlightening to someone who has only heard cliche explanations that give all the credit to American Presidency during the 80s. Most of the world was caught off guard by the collapse of the Soviet Union so it is disingenuous for any party to claim credit.
posted by dgran at 6:56 AM on June 27, 2011


Default ensues, who's going to pay for it? Obviously the population: huge social unrest.

Name one were this happened. I want a Nation and a Leader.


France under Louis XVI.
posted by valkyryn at 7:32 AM on July 5, 2011


Follow up: Last week, I was house-sitting in San Francisco and did a bit of aimless walking thru the cross streets of the Marina/Pacific Heights area and came upon the Russian Federation's consulate near the Presidio. Outside the entrance was a Balloon Lady van, and on the sidewalk her minions were carefully assembling a giant spiraled arch of balloons in Soviet red and yellow under the watchful eye of official-looking, sunglassed men in suits.

As I passed by, somebody was yelling something over an intercom to somebody; I was the only person in the vicinity of the speaker, so I assume their words were directed at me. I do not understand Russian, but I was guessing the message was was, "Sidewalk interloper, you do not see these Soviet-themed party balloons! We are hosting the Spanish soccer team and/or Chinese ping pong contingent! These are not Soviet-themed party balloons!"

They were Soviet-themed party balloons.

So, clearly, these facts point to the demise of the Soviet Union as being a clever ruse. I have no doubt that once inside the consulate building, the balloon spiral was fashioned into a three-quarters profile of Lenin, which was then worshiped like the owl of the Bohemian Grove, while not-so-good, not-so-bad soviet champagne was consumed.

I don't make these things up, I just read the signs.
posted by eegphalanges at 11:02 AM on July 11, 2011


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