April 24, 2001
3:08 AM   Subscribe

At the end of the Cold War, a lot of people professed to believe that the USSR's collapse "proved" that communism/socialism/egalitarianism (delete according to the size of claim you want to make) can never work.

Maybe. But this got me thinking you could say the same about neoliberalism.
posted by Mocata (17 comments total)
Cohen suggests that it was America's "liberalism" that incompatible with Russian needs and that we had moved too fast. But the history of Russia is at time a division between those who want to wall of the West and keep to their slavic heritage and those who believe that their future is in westernization (see, for example, the use of French among the westernizers).
It seems to me, though I am no scholar in such matters, that what Choen calls liberalism (under GOP presidency?) is what I would call capitalism. If we had moved too fast--this we may know now from hindsight--it was in part because a total collapse of Russia might have destablized the area and brought about chaos (and recall the nuclear weapons there).
In other words: capitalism defeated communism. And now it is defeating democracy.
posted by Postroad at 3:37 AM on April 24, 2001

Along similar lines:
Is Democracy the best answer for everyone?

It is an interesting question, whether the political and economic systems that seem to work so well in so much of the world can be as effective in all places and cultures.
posted by syzygy at 4:23 AM on April 24, 2001

You know, communism worked pretty well for a while there, in 60-80's, despite the obvious flaws, human rights and all that evil jumbo mumbo. And the thing if that could have been straightened out, and without that much effort. Maybe perestroika shouldn't have been as over-turning as it was, and certainly should have taken longer, say 15 years, gradually bringing in private companies and privatization of land, then property and such.
posted by tiaka at 5:16 AM on April 24, 2001

In my opinion, problems in Russia do not stem from Capitalism, but from the fact that Capitalism can't exist in a total void. Rules need to be enforced and a strong and fair legal and enforcement system needs to be in place. Russia doesn't have that. This, combined with the fact thatRussia never had this in recent history creates an atmosphere where people think they can get away with anything and, in reality, most of them do get away with anything. So questioning democracy or capitalism outright is simply premature.
posted by Witold at 5:43 AM on April 24, 2001

Thanks for the Atlantic Monthly article, syzygy.

One of the fatal flaw of communism as implemented was not recognizing that, people gravitate towards "ownership." Even in other wise socialistic groups, like the Beduins, Gypsies and various Amazonian tribes, while there is an established practice of sharing, there is also a long standing practice of owning personal properties.

The best thing about America is that, here pretty much everything is "as advertized." Realizing the American Dream essentially means to be rich, by whatever means (usually by individual hard work, sometimes with a few lucky breaks). USSR billed itself to be a nation of and for equals. Yet the government officials lived much better (and in luxury) than the common factory workers. There were very few opportunities for a commoner to profit from their personal excellence (unless it somehow fell within "the plans" of the powers that be). The frustration of commoners is what led to the demise of USSR. People lost interest.

On the other hand, the lifestyle and socio-economic structures of the Beduin is not much different now than it was during the times of Abraham. Whatever the next "wheel" or the next "better mouse trap" will be, it needs to instill social responsibility with in the ranks while encouraging personal advancement.
posted by tamim at 6:19 AM on April 24, 2001

Perhaps one of Marx's greatest disservices to political discourse* was his invention of the concept of "economic systems" and then opposing them against one another (i.e. feudalism, capitalism, socialism, communism). It has blinkered everyone, even non-Marxists. Everyone is still standing around arguing with Marx's ghost.

Forget systems, look at history. Russia has always been a police state, China has always been a dictatorship. That's not to say that this is an eternal truth and can't be changed. But to simply "change the system" and expect democracy, rule of law, human rights etc. to automatically follow is an naive as Karl Marx was in expecting paradise to follow by simply changing the ownership of the "means of production".

It takes a lot more to build a decent society.

* don't get me wrong, I think everyone should read Marx
posted by lagado at 6:25 AM on April 24, 2001

The frustration of commoners is what led to the demise of USSR. People lost interest.

Actually it was economic collapse from overextended millitary budgets. I don't think the commoners had a lot to do with it.
posted by lagado at 6:29 AM on April 24, 2001

Well, agreed mostly, but economic collapse doesn't take place in a vacuum. Economics doesn't take down a political system directly. The "commoners" are the ones who felt the effect of the economic collapse most deeply and had the least cushion. That's where the economic pressure got turned into political pressure.
posted by rodii at 6:34 AM on April 24, 2001

tiaka: there was an interesting comment on BBC radio yesterday, from an academic historian, to the effect that perestroika -- and the Gorbachev project in general -- was perceived as a promise of economic improvement, not particularly one of greater civil freedom, and that the population of the USSR would have happily taken greater prosperity ahead of greater liberty. What's your take on that?
posted by holgate at 7:05 AM on April 24, 2001

This is absurd. There is no more true capitalism in Russia than there is democracy. The story of the evolution away from a fully command economy to what is happening now is not one that can be blamed on the US -- corruption and rampant mafiya control of property and bureaucracy have transformed the nation into a kleptocracy of the first degree.

I feel really sorry for the Russian people; just as I feel bad for the average Iraqi, Iranian, and Afghani. Each has been betrayed by a greedy, spineless, weak, and dare I say-- evil? government. To blame each of their problems on the US government is profoundly disingenous.
posted by norm at 8:02 AM on April 24, 2001

Norm - read the article before posting comments.
posted by Mocata at 9:31 AM on April 24, 2001


I did read the article; my comment was responding not only to the notes of constant blame towards the US for other country's problems but also the comments such as yours within the thread pointing at a red herring (neo-liberalism) to blame these problems.

I am restraining myself here, Mocata, your off the cuff dismissal of my comment is really raising some hairs on the back of my neck.
posted by norm at 11:15 AM on April 24, 2001

Another data point is from the Atlantic's current issue: Russia is Finished (or as I called it, stealing a section subhead, "Zaïre with Permafrost"). The author has lived in Russia for several years as a businessman and has seen the corruption and decline first-hand. I suspect he's overstating his case and pessimistic rather than cynical, but it's a very interesting piece to read side-by-side with the above.
posted by dhartung at 12:09 PM on April 24, 2001

Btw, sorry for the time, but if anyone's interested, my reply is here.
posted by tiaka at 1:20 AM on April 25, 2001

tiaka – that was really interesting.

norm – Sorry to be so offhand, I just assumed you hadn't read the piece. I don't think anyone's blaming the US government for all of Russia's current woes. And for those it is responsible for, Europe and the international community in general have to take some of the blame as well.

That said, American policymakers' efforts to export to Russia 'a market economy with stripped-down regulations and shrunken social transfers' probably did do a lot of damage. That doesn't mean their policies were ill-intentioned; but the massive ideological commitment to free markets over and above anything else on the part of the economists and advisers involved does seem to have blinded them to the realities involved – ie, to the fact that their neoliberal pipedreams helped provide cover for what the article accurately calls an 'outrageously unfair reallocation of state property, wholly undisciplined by democratic processes and unregulated by any conceivable norm of justice'.
posted by Mocata at 3:34 AM on April 25, 2001

Thanks, tiaka. It makes you realise how little we grasp the reality of the situation.
posted by holgate at 4:47 AM on April 25, 2001

Great post tiaka, thanks.
posted by lagado at 5:55 AM on April 25, 2001

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