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"Many of the papers are still taboo to this day"
August 17, 2011 3:55 PM   Subscribe

Secret Papers Reveal Truth Behind Soviet Collapse - the Gorbachev files. 'During a research visit to the Gorbachev Foundation, the young Russian historian Pavel Stroilov, who lives in London today, secretly copied about 30,000 pages of the material archived there and made them available to SPIEGEL.'

'Reading the documents feels like stepping back in time. All at once, they reveal the many problems of the calcified system, where farmers and miners alike were rebelling and intellectuals were demanding democratic elections. The people of the Baltic states, the Georgians and the Moldovans were revolting against the Russians, while the end of the Brezhnev Doctrine -- the Soviet Union foreign policy that countries could not leave the Warsaw Pact -- was looming in Eastern Europe.

Gorbachev, who had once been a provincial official in Stavropol, stood at the helm of this country, watching it suffocate as a result of its sheer size and the refusal of its bureaucracy to change course. The documents also show that even under Gorbachev, the bureaucracy was as inefficient as ever.'

'The West has praised Gorbachev for not forcefully resisting the demise of the Soviet Union. In reality, it remains unclear to this day whether the Kremlin leader did not in fact sanction military actions against Georgians, Azerbaijanis and Lithuanians, who had rebelled against the central government in Moscow between 1989 and 1991.'
posted by VikingSword (66 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Mikhail Gorbachev: I should have abandoned the Communist party earlier.
posted by clavdivs at 4:07 PM on August 17, 2011


Interesting but not the 'oh so that's what happened!' That the blurb made it out to be.
posted by k8t at 4:09 PM on August 17, 2011


Nardwuar vs Gorbachev
posted by Razzle Bathbone at 4:11 PM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dear Metafilter:

I've had it with all you Reagan haters.

signed,

half the country
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:15 PM on August 17, 2011


Dear half the country,

You didn't say thank you.

signed,

Solidarnosc
posted by dglynn at 4:20 PM on August 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Dear Benny Andajets and dglyn,

I'm confused and don't know what you're talking about

signed,

Hoopo
posted by Hoopo at 4:23 PM on August 17, 2011 [14 favorites]


Hoopo:

It's kind of an article of faith on the conservative right that Reagan was such a god and a badass that the Soviet Union spent its way into oblivion trying to maintain a military that could compete with us.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:28 PM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dear Benny Andajets,

I'm confused, what does this have to do with Reagan?

signed,

People Who Read The Linked Article
posted by verb at 4:28 PM on August 17, 2011 [14 favorites]


Maybe we should return to things that Gorbachev said? A remark on the Tiananmen Square massacre made in a politburo meeting on Oct. 4, 1989, for example.

"We must be realists. They have to defend themselves, and so do we. 3,000 people, so what?"

Communism in a nutshell.
posted by joannemullen at 4:28 PM on August 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Gorbachev, who had once been a provincial official in Stavropol, stood at the helm of this country, watching it suffocate as a result of its sheer size and the refusal of its bureaucracy to change course. The documents also show that even under Gorbachev, the bureaucracy was as inefficient as ever.'

From what I understand, the fall of the USSR has more to do with an old regime that aged and never put in fresh blood until it was too late (Gorbachev).

And Reagan just happened to be US president at the time when everything began to fall apart.

This said, I am not history major. I imagine the US had a hand in things going back to when the USSR was born, and even then, it wasn't just when Reagan was in office.

I'll read the article when I get around to it.
posted by JoeXIII007 at 4:33 PM on August 17, 2011


I'll give Reagan credit for the Soviet collapse when I can blame Bush for 9/11.

Wait, no I won't.
posted by LordSludge at 4:35 PM on August 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


"300,000,000 people, so what?"

Ronald Reagan in a nutshell.
posted by oneswellfoop at 4:37 PM on August 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow this is an interesting post that has taken a turn for the stupid very quickly.
posted by dismas at 4:40 PM on August 17, 2011 [29 favorites]


you are a saint
:)
posted by clavdivs at 4:48 PM on August 17, 2011


Dear everyone,

ARRRAAARRGGGHHHH GRRRAAAAHHAARRRRGGGHH RAAAIIIIRRRAAAAGG

Sincerely, me.

It's kind of an article of faith on the conservative right that Reagan was such a god and a badass that the Soviet Union spent its way into oblivion trying to maintain a military that could compete with us.

Yeah, many of them also believe a deity created the world in six days.

World politics is a complicated issue, and any time you try to reduce something to a single hard cause you're going to leave out important detail. When one side of an argument seems philosophically opposed to the idea that the world has nuance, that side is going to be wrong most of the time.

You're equating a joke which killed exactly nobody with the murder of 3,000 Chinese kids?
Left wing apologists in a nutshell.


And an extra GRRAARRRAAAGGHH to you, joannemullen.
posted by JHarris at 4:48 PM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


OK. I apologize for the glib response.

I just don't see this as any kind of revelation. The Soviet Union had these problems for decades; it was always laboring under shortages and keeping tabs on its western countries was like herding cats. It was destined to implode.

I was making a (too) shorthand comment that the issues were more numerous and systemic than much of our country still believes.

Again, sorry for tweaking noses.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 4:50 PM on August 17, 2011


Am I a bad guy for thinking it'd have been kinda neat if the Soviet Union stuck it out and avoided collapse, in some form? I fear it's partly the desire to watch a train wreck, but I sometimes wonder what they'd be doing in 2011.
posted by floam at 4:55 PM on August 17, 2011


Am I a bad guy for thinking it'd have been kinda neat if the Soviet Union stuck it out and avoided collapse, in some form?

At the risk of making the thread dumber with the introduction of steampunk. I know what you mean. I kind of wish they had cut off all contact with the west, turned inward and evolved along parallel but radically different lines. Giant thinking machines made with millions of hand-blown peasant labor vacuum tubes. Huge zeppelins and ornate locomotives to cover the vast distances, an internet based on something totally nuts, like actual pneumatic tubes filled with ball bearings. After decades we could re-establish contact only to discover that they were all wearing tophats and googles, riding around in coal powered horseless autocarriages and speaking english with victorian accents.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:08 PM on August 17, 2011 [24 favorites]


Am I a bad guy for thinking it'd have been kinda neat if the Soviet Union stuck it out and avoided collapse, in some form?

I've always felt this would make a more interesting scif-fi/alternate history timeline than most of the mountains of "Nazis win WWII" stuff that gets written.

In terms of the real world, though, I think the USSR could have survived, if they'd gone the China route of selective, slow-motion economic liberalization combined with authoritarian government. It would have been harder and they'd still probably have lost some of their East European satellites, but it could have been done.
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:10 PM on August 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Aaaand Ad hominem got there before me with the awesome.
posted by AdamCSnider at 5:11 PM on August 17, 2011


I'm not sure I ever understood the alleged Reagan connection to the implosion of the USSR. Are realistic figures based on the USSR's own documentation even available? Or do people just rely on estimates? It wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that Soviet military spending increased not because of Reagan's profligacy, but because Kennedy's handling of the missile crisis showed that any claims of Soviet military superiority were purely illusory.

In any event, I'm not sure this article does much to contradict claims that the arms race did the Russians in. Arguably, their economic problems could have been averted if they'd been able to spend more on research related to food production, among other things.
posted by Hylas at 5:11 PM on August 17, 2011


Am I a bad guy for thinking it'd have been kinda neat if the Soviet Union stuck it out and avoided collapse, in some form? I fear it's partly the desire to watch a train wreck, but I sometimes wonder what they'd be doing in 2011.

A little like this game I think.
posted by GuyZero at 5:13 PM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The spiegel article is interesting. I had not before seen that business about Kohl keeping up the weary Gorbachev as returning the favor for Gorbachev allowing the Berlin wall to fall and Germany to annex the east. Also the bit about Mrs. Gorbachev having a stroke during the coup.

Historians will be arguing inconclusively for a hundred years about all the particulars, I am sure.
posted by bukvich at 5:13 PM on August 17, 2011


"Yeah, I'm glad America doesn't turn a blind eye to the crimes of the Chinese government and has refused to have any dealings with such totalitarian criminals."

It's because the Communists control the government. Google Ron Paul!

And while I'm as anti-Communist as the next guy (well, the next guy that just finished reading Orwell's Homage to Catalonia), and it's interesting to get more detail about the final spasms of the USSR — my Russian Politics in Transition class gave a pretty dichotomous view of Gorbachev as both trying to usher in reform and to try to preserve the Soviet system at the same time, something that was clearly untenable — when you give people freedoms, often they use those freedoms to agitate for more freedom.

The prof also emphasized a view of Gorbachev as fundamentally a technocrat — he was known for reforms in agricultural science before he became a national player in the USSR, and it was hoped that he would have enough of an objective, empiricist orientation to allow perestroika and glasnost to percolate over a decade at least.
posted by klangklangston at 5:21 PM on August 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


Whups. Totally forgot my train of thought: It's that if you see that as murderous indifference as the nut of Communism, you're inventing an ideology out of your need for an enemy, not an actual understanding of Russian or leftist politics.

(Also, state communists are right-wing socialists, and were often opposed by the left.)
posted by klangklangston at 5:24 PM on August 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


It's a really interesting read, and sheds some light on how Gorbachev really operated.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:25 PM on August 17, 2011


Arguably, their economic problems could have been averted if they'd been able to spend more on research related to food production, among other things.

From what I've read, the Soviets made a fairly bad mistake early on by consciously setting up a system that forced interdependence between the various countries as a way of trying to make a whole - this area grows potatoes, this area makes tractors, etc.

Not a good way to get the people's hearts and minds.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:28 PM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


In Alternate Steampunk Soviet Union, tophats and googles wear you!

Um, I'll just go and consign myself to the dustbin of humor, shall I?
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:40 PM on August 17, 2011 [4 favorites]


"Gorbachev's goal of spoiling Yeltsin's chances of further advancement and getting Kohl on board, if possible, is understandable from a human standpoint. Politically, however, it was absurd."
Yeah, you don't want to let little things like people get in the way.
posted by TDavis at 5:43 PM on August 17, 2011


You get a leader in an autocratic courtyard who wants to change things, and he gets jammed up by institutional interia. Now consider Obama's situation. The institutional interia of 8 years of Bush's cronies in the executive branch, democrats who have 3 opinions per person about the right way to proceed and an obstructioninst minority in congress. In summary we got no chance.
posted by humanfont at 5:45 PM on August 17, 2011


How timely, I'm currently reading Armageddon Averted: The Collapse of The Soviet Union 1970-2000 of mefite Nasreddin's recommendation, and the entire topic of the book is basically about this.

It was destined to implode.

I wouldn't be so sure of that at all. North Korea shows one direction the USSR could have headed, and possibly China another. Certainly, you could argue it would have become a failed state, but that is no obstacle to its continuation. Russia had one of the largest militaries in the entire world; repression would have been almost trivially easy for the elite, and the country could have slid into a more recognisable "regime" style quite quickly.

Klang is on the money about Gorbachev destroying communism by attempting to save it. Glastnost and then Perestroika opened the country up to the Western, and everyday Russians were made painfully aware of the vast gap between their lives and the west. At the same time, they helped erode patriotism by further exposing the corruptions and abuses of previous governments.

Gorby tried to rush in a staggering amount of reform into state insitutions that had been practically ossified for decades. The elite controlling said institutions were either unwilling or unable to enact these reforms - let alone with the speed required - and so under his reforms things actually got shitter for the everyday Russian - I'm talking food queues and famine the likes of which had not been seen for decades - not least of which because his anti-corruption measures hampered the efficiency of the black market.

Through quite adroit maneouvring, Gorbachev took a lot of power away from the previously super centralised institutions, and presaged a shift almost to a more federalised kind of view, but there was essentially nothing to replace it with, and this was compounded by large military reductions - arguable the most efficient and certainly most profitable part of the government. All the other factories were churning out crap so economically the state was in the shitter, the elite were totally pissed about their waning influence and the public was quequeing for bread and owning a car or anything like it was nothing but a daydream for the majority.

None of the above means that the USSR would have inevitably collapsed, however. Really, it's a miracle it did in the way it did. What would be more accurate to say is that to get the kind of state Gorbachev pictured, in the timeframe he wanted, collapse was almost inevitable. But there are plenty of other visions - that would have been far worse for most Russians - that would have required no collapse at all.
posted by smoke at 5:47 PM on August 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


Notwithstanding his errors and even his intentions, he was the most important-- and in terms of net consequences, benign-- world leader since World War II.
posted by darth_tedious at 5:57 PM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Surely it was the lack of bananas?
posted by the duck by the oboe at 5:57 PM on August 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


There's also a fair amount of good info in Kremlin Rising by Baker and Glasser, about Putin's rise and consolidation of power. While Baker and Glasser weren't in Russia for the collapse, they do a pretty decent job of contextualizing it and explaining the backlash against Gorby and Yeltsin, whom nearly everyone in Russia hate now.
posted by klangklangston at 5:58 PM on August 17, 2011


There's also a fair amount of good info in Kremlin Rising by Baker and Glasser, about Putin's rise and consolidation of power. While Baker and Glasser weren't in Russia for the collapse, they do a pretty decent job of contextualizing it and explaining the backlash against Gorby and Yeltsin, whom nearly everyone in Russia hate now.

That's the amazing thing, isn't it? That so many people could live through the previous 80 years and yet want to move back in that direction. It's the devil you know, I guess.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 6:03 PM on August 17, 2011


The mind boggles at secretly copying 30,000 pages.

"What is taking so long with the photocopier, komrad?"
posted by bpm140 at 6:14 PM on August 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


"PC loadletter? What in fuck is this?"
posted by TheRedArmy at 6:52 PM on August 17, 2011 [12 favorites]


"taking photo of butt, but copier only making microdot copies"
posted by UbuRoivas at 6:54 PM on August 17, 2011


It was destined to implode.

Or if not "destined," the implosion was very, very likely. But what fascinated me at the time and what still seems poignant and terrible is that despite knowing that the Soviet Union's chances of surving were slim, no one knew how it would end. The following, from the 4th edition (1984) of Riasanovsky's A History of Russia has lingered in my mind for 25 years:
It would thus seem that in many respects the Soviet Union is neither a stable—pace, Bialer and other specialists—nor a happy country. Moreover, its economy and society continue to evolve. Profound alterations in the very foundations of the Soviet system appear, therefore, likely in the not-too-distant future. But the problem of change in the Soviet Union has quite a special character. The leadership and the party, which have a deadly grip on the country, will not relax it much more than they already have since Stalin's death. In other words, the prospects of fundamental change by evolution remain severly limited. The alternative, revolution, while it certainly cannot be ruled out, must, for lack of evidence, be no more than sheer speculation at present. To conclude, the Soviet system is not likely to last, not likely to change fundamentally by evolution, and not likely to be overthrown a revolution. History, to be sure, has a way of advancing even when that means leaving historians behind."
I think of that and I think of how quickly the largest state on Earth just up and evaporated one day and it gives me the fantods.
posted by octobersurprise at 7:07 PM on August 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


I kind of wish they had cut off all contact with the west, turned inward and evolved along parallel but radically different lines. Giant thinking machines made with millions of hand-blown peasant labor vacuum tubes. Huge zeppelins and ornate locomotives to cover the vast distances, an internet based on something totally nuts, like actual pneumatic tubes filled with ball bearings. After decades we could re-establish contact only to discover that they were all wearing tophats and googles, riding around in coal powered horseless autocarriages and speaking english with victorian accents.

I look forward to your book.
posted by davejay at 7:07 PM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


klangklangston: While Baker and Glasser weren't in Russia for the collapse, they do a pretty decent job of contextualizing it and explaining the backlash against Gorby and Yeltsin, whom nearly everyone in Russia hate now.

I'm not so sure about that. A couple of people I know who've lived in Russia have told me that, to their surprise, that Yeltsin is quite fondly thought by a lot of Russians. It comes down to his having surrendered power peacefully and apologized for his mistakes. To put it mildly, Russian leaders don't have a history of apologizing for anything.

I don't know how widely held this estimation of Yeltsin is, but I've heard it from two people now, living in different parts of Russia at different times.
posted by Kattullus at 7:34 PM on August 17, 2011


The USSR was always terribly dependent on foreign currency.....I remember reading an article that said the real endgame came at a meeting between, the G-6 countries or whatever, and the Politburo, in which the Communists were informed that, if they intervened in the revolutions in East Germany, or the Baltic States, there would be no more loan guarantees. Then there would be famine; they could not feed their people without these loans.
posted by thelonius at 7:37 PM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


The 1980's collapse in oil prices was supposedly what bared their throats to the Western bankers, according to this article, not the arms race
posted by thelonius at 7:40 PM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


That so many people could live through the previous 80 years and yet want to move back in that direction.

For the average guy, first off he didn't live through 80 years - he lived through 20, or 30, or 40. There were not too many people around who remembered the bad times of Stalin.

What they remembered was a state that provided free education, decent medical care, free university for those with the ability, guaranteed lifetime employment at a living wage... Yeah there was the ideology and the propaganda, but the vast majority of any population is apolitical. Yeah there was corruption, but so there is today.

In the West we are quick to demonize the evil communists based on first principles, when the average guy just wants to live in stability and relative comfort.
posted by Meatbomb at 8:02 PM on August 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I am not a tin foil hat guy or a conspiracy nut normally, but I firmly believe that in my lifetime it will come out that Gorbachev was working for and taking orders from the CIA.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:03 PM on August 17, 2011


don't tell him that.
I smell Gorby factor for the election, perhaps his recent admissions are more relevant then I thought.
posted by clavdivs at 8:08 PM on August 17, 2011


I am not a tin foil hat guy or a conspiracy nut normally, but I firmly believe that in my lifetime it will come out that Gorbachev was working for and taking orders from the CIA.

Yeah but when you say things like that... With no evidence to back you up... Why send fucking tanks into Riga or Georgia when your secret goal is to dismantle Communism?
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 8:37 PM on August 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am not a tin foil hat guy or a conspiracy nut normally, but I firmly believe that in my lifetime it will come out that Gorbachev was working for and taking orders from the CIA.

Hi there! Now you are!

No, really, the CIA has never been that competent.
posted by octobersurprise at 8:45 PM on August 17, 2011 [6 favorites]


Fascinating:

Kohl: As a politician, I understand that there are moments when evasive maneuvers are unavoidable if one hopes to achieve certain political goals.

Gorbachev: Helmut, I am familiar with your assessment of the situation, and I greatly respect it. Goodbye.

posted by Ironmouth at 9:31 PM on August 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


"I am not a tin foil hat guy or a conspiracy nut normally, but I firmly believe that in my lifetime it will come out that Gorbachev was working for and taking orders from the CIA."

This is one of those points where it help to read the article linked at the top
posted by Blasdelb at 11:58 PM on August 17, 2011


I can see why some people would want to go back-- life expectancies dropped after the USSR collapsed. If that's not an indication that life got worse for most people, I don't know what is.
The life expectancy of men fell from 64 to 57 from 1990 to 1994, and throughout the 1990s alcohol-related deaths increased 60% and infectious and parasitic diseases increased by 100%.
Link
posted by wuwei at 12:09 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I can see why some people would want to go back-- life expectancies dropped after the USSR collapsed.

And if you flat-out ask them, according to some poll, 66% of Russians regret the collapse.
posted by floam at 12:23 AM on August 18, 2011


"I am not a tin foil hat guy or a conspiracy nut normally, but I firmly believe that in my lifetime it will come out that Gorbachev was working for and taking orders from the CIA."

I'd think Yeltsin would've been a better recruit.
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:23 AM on August 18, 2011


klangklangston: (Also, state communists are right-wing socialists, and were often opposed by the left.)

How are you classifying state communism (by which I assume you mean big-C Marxist-Leninist Communism- but then, that's pretty much the only form of state communism that's ever held power) as being right-wing socialism? I don't think I would agree, but I'd be interested in hearing how you define "left" and "right" in this context- to me, authoritarianism does not, in itself, automatically equal rightism. As I see it, right-wing socialism would, in the extreme forms, be something like third positionism, and in the less extreme forms would be some of the nationalist and/or socially conservative parties in Europe that nevertheless want to preserve or expand the welfare state. Both of these differ in a great many fundamental ways from Marxism-Leninism- though there's of course a broad spectrum within that ideology, it seems to me to be pretty solidly rooted in the left. A few Communist governments did veer far enough to the right that I think they ended up becoming something quite close to third positionist (North Korea is an example of this, I think- notably, they no longer claim to be a Marxist state), but that was not universally the case- for one, Maoist China during the Cultural Revolution strikes me as having been ultra-leftist, in the "power to the youth and the workers" element of the whole thing, the glorification of revolutionary change, the hyper-egalitarian rhetoric and goals of it, and the extremely hostile attitude towards tradition and the past- e.g. the destruction of the "Four Olds."

There were, as you say, plenty of leftists who opposed Marxism-Leninism, but I wouldn't really call that a left-right split- anti-Soviet leftists were a very diverse group, and their motivations were too different as a whole to easily classify as being always to the left of Leninist ideology. If you're thinking of anarchists as being the left-wing opposition to "right-wing" state communism, I don't think the state vs. anti-state division in revolutionary socialism necessarily equates to a left-right one, in either direction. There are forms of anti-state socialism that tend towards the right (a good example might be the ideology of Georges Sorel), and ultra-leftist forms of Leninist state communism. (e.g. Maoism, as mentioned, particularly in the case of the most radical Red Guard factions) Some anarchists have claimed that state communism is ultimately right-wing, but that accusation was thrown in both directions, and I know I've seen Leninists claim that anarchism is "really" right-wing- IMO, both arguments tend to rely on very specific and idiosyncratic definitions of "left" and "right". Ultimately, I think Leninism is (unfortunately) as much a left-wing ideology as fascism was right-wing , and claiming that it was really right-wing socialism strikes me as being no different from right-wingers claiming that fascism was "really" socialist and therefore leftist.
posted by a louis wain cat at 12:27 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


I kind of wish they had cut off all contact with the west, turned inward and evolved along parallel but radically different lines. Giant thinking machines made with millions of hand-blown peasant labor vacuum tubes. Huge zeppelins and ornate locomotives to cover the vast distances, an internet based on something totally nuts, like actual pneumatic tubes filled with ball bearings.

And weaponized Tesla coils, of course.
posted by homunculus at 12:52 AM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


KGB: what can we do to get rid of Yakov Smirnoff?

Agent: it's a radical plan, but in the long term, totally worth it.
posted by ShutterBun at 2:40 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Let's all not forget that Gorbachev is reviled inside Russia. From a western perspective you might think that he'd be a hero and there would be statues in Moscow and streets named after him and like everybody naming their first born son Gorby or some shit like that. No. You can't spit without hitting a statue of Lenin but there ain't jack shit for Gorby.
posted by spicynuts at 6:06 AM on August 18, 2011


Nostalgia for the Soviet Union within Russia (and to a lesser extent the former territories) is likely driven by recollection of a strong social safety net and pride in being a major world power.

I'm still amazed at how peacefully the collapse occurred. There were so many alternative ways it could have played out. That historians and political scientists are still trying to explain the cause of the collapse reveals just how much the outcome defied expectations. I have a feeling we may never really nail it down or the causes were so manifold that it defies clear explanation.
posted by dgran at 6:38 AM on August 18, 2011


The USSR was always terribly dependent on foreign currency.....I remember reading an article that said the real endgame came at a meeting between, the G-6 countries or whatever, and the Politburo, in which the Communists were informed that, if they intervened in the revolutions in East Germany, or the Baltic States, there would be no more loan guarantees. Then there would be famine; they could not feed their people without these loans.

Yegor Gaidar has written about the link between grain production, rising oil prices, and the collapse of the Soviet Union:

If the Soviet military crushed Solidarity Party demonstrations in Warsaw, the Soviet Union would not have received the desperately needed $100 billion from the West. The Socialist bloc was stable when the Soviet Union had the prerogative to use as much force as necessary to reestablish control, as previously demonstrated in Germany, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia. But in 1989 the Polish elites understood that Soviet tanks would not be used to defend the communist government. ...

When the Soviet Union tried to use force to reestablish control in Baltic states in January 1991 ... the reaction from the West--including from the United States--was fairly straightforward: "Do as you wish, this is your country. You can choose any solution, but please forget about the $100 billion credit."

posted by Kabanos at 6:52 AM on August 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


previously
posted by warbaby at 7:29 AM on August 18, 2011




I'm still amazed at how peacefully the collapse occurred. There were so many alternative ways it could have played out.


From what I've heard my Russian colleagues say, the credit for things remaining peaceful through most of the 90s goes to Yeltsin.
posted by spicynuts at 7:41 AM on August 18, 2011


"How are you classifying state communism (by which I assume you mean big-C Marxist-Leninist Communism- but then, that's pretty much the only form of state communism that's ever held power) as being right-wing socialism? I don't think I would agree, but I'd be interested in hearing how you define "left" and "right" in this context- to me, authoritarianism does not, in itself, automatically equal rightism."

State communism, especially of the Leninist-Stalinist form (Marx never made it through the starting gates in Russia) was explicitly hierarchical i.e. anti-egalitarian, and authoritarian i.e. anti-liberal. It also became extremely internally conservative both morally and politically by the end of Lenin's rule, and only became more so over the subsequent Stalin and Khrushchev premierships. So while you might argue that authoritarianism doesn't necessarily equal rightism (though I think it's an important component in rightism), they also fulfill the other conditions: conservatism and hierarchies in practice, if not in rhetoric.

I tend to think of third-positionism, which explicitly rejects both communism and capitalism, as a weird neo-fascist position that's not really anything more than a fringe movement that's incoherent in its rhetoric and politics. Thinking of them more rooted in the left than the right seems pretty specious, given that they're essentially authoritarian racists with a sop to popular support for social services (it's my uncharitable prejudice to assume that's because most of their supporters are on the dole).

Maoism did start out as radically egalitarian, and I think there's a case to be made that it was a leftist project in the beginning, but that's long since been abandoned. One of the recurring points made in the Russian Politics class I mentioned above was how previous national character or institutions shape the outcomes of revolutionary projects, and I think that even with the attempts to destroy that (culminating in the Cultural Revolution), China's default assumptions for an authoritarian system did shift the revolution out of the egalitarian ideals they professed. And that's leaving aside the Red vs. Expert fights.

One of the other primary differences between state communism and left-wing alternatives is the role of the vanguard party — both anarchists and left communists reject the idea of a vanguard, especially a Leninist vanguard that assumes the dictatorship for the proletariat. That might be a good way to separate out right communism from left communism — rightists tend to assert the necessity of a dictatorship, be it proletariat or otherwise. Dictatorships are inherently hierarchical and illiberal.

As for Leninism and Stalinism being left wing, I think it's fair to take Lenin's words here (Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder) as emblematic of his take on Leninist Communism versus leftism as a whole. And I don't think it's unfair to contrast that with, say, Cyprus, whose government is communist but doesn't endorse state communism. Likewise, Nepal, though Nepal's too weird to draw any broader lessons from, at least as far as I understand it. And I think that Lenin's rejection of leftism is sufficiently different from the lip-service to socialism that the Nazis pretended that equating the leftist critiques of Leninism with the right-wing scapegoating of socialism for fascism is specious.

Sorel's a bit too idiosyncratic to be taken as representative of the right or the left, at least in my brief experience reading him. But I've only read excerpts from him on myth and violence, so maybe a broader appraisal of him moves him to one side or the other.
posted by klangklangston at 9:54 AM on August 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


So while you might argue that authoritarianism doesn't necessarily equal rightism (though I think it's an important component in rightism), they also fulfill the other conditions: conservatism and hierarchies in practice, if not in rhetoric.

Except that in context, right versus left is about maintaining or destroying an older economic and social order. Although its replacement might be authoritarian and resistant to change, those elements do not a right wing government make. A right wing government is dedicated to maintaining the old social order or bringing it back. State communisim most certainly is not.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:45 AM on August 18, 2011


"A right wing government is dedicated to maintaining the old social order or bringing it back."

Not necessarily — fascism was both right wing and radical. You can argue that the distinction is in terms of rhetoric used, that right wing politicians appeal to a nostalgic views as opposed to the left wing's revolutionary view, but I tend to think their positions vis a vis liberalism and egalitarianism are more in line with both the historical origins of the phrase and the common usages. I also think it's possible to be conservative and not right wing, whether your definition of conservative means Democrats striving to maintain the social programs of the New Deal or Edmund Burke's repudiation of the French Revolution.
posted by klangklangston at 12:32 PM on August 18, 2011


Today is the 20th anniversary of the coup that toppled the USSR. Man, do I feel old.
posted by staggering termagant at 9:36 AM on August 19, 2011


Revolution Road: Foreign Policy presents a special report on the Soviet collapse two decades later -- and why it matters now, in today’s revolutionary times.
posted by homunculus at 6:08 PM on August 20, 2011


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