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Forum LockedWas fall of USSR a good thing?

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hugoestr View Drop Down
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    Posted: 10-Jul-2008 at 15:50

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2006/dec/13/comment.russia

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The breakup of the Soviet Union ended Russia's march to democracy

Putin's Russia can only be understood in the light of the national collapse triggered by the dissolution of the USSR


The most consequential event of the second half of the 20th century took place 15 years ago at a secluded hunting lodge in the Belovezh Forest near Minsk. On December 8 1991, heads of three of the Soviet Union's 15 republics, led by Russia's Boris Yeltsin, met there to sign documents abolishing that 74-year-old state.

For most western commentators the Soviet breakup was an unambiguously positive turning point in Russian and world history. As it quickly became the defining moment in a new American triumphalist narrative, the hope that Mikhail Gorbachev's pro-Soviet democratic and market reforms of 1985-91 would succeed was forgotten. Soviet history was now presented as "Russia's seven decades as a rigid and ruthless police state". American academics reacted similarly, most reverting to pre-Gorbachev axioms that the system had always been unreformable and doomed. The opposing view that there had been other possibilities in Soviet history, "roads not taken", was dismissed as a "dubious", if not disloyal, notion. Gorbachev's reforms, despite having so remarkably dismantled the Communist party dictatorship, had been "a chimera", and the Soviet Union therefore died from a "lack of alternatives".

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

A large majority of Russians, on the other hand, as they have regularly made clear in opinion surveys, regret the end of the Soviet Union, not because they pine for "communism" but because they lost a secure way of life. They do not share the nearly unanimous western view that the Soviet Union's "collapse" was "inevitable" because of inherent fatal defects. They believe instead, and for good reason, that three "subjective" factors broke it up: the way Gorbachev carried out his political and economic reforms; a power struggle in which Yeltsin overthrew the Soviet state in order to get rid of its president, Gorbachev; and property-seizing Soviet bureaucratic elites, the nomenklatura, who were more interested in "privatising" the state's enormous wealth in 1991 than in defending it. Most Russians, including even the imprisoned oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky, therefore still see December 1991 as a "tragedy".

In addition, a growing number of Russian intellectuals have come to believe that something essential was lost - a historic opportunity to democratise and modernise Russia by methods more gradualist, consensual and less traumatic, and thus more fruitful and less costly, than those adopted after 1991.

One common post-Soviet myth, promoted by Yeltsin's supporters, is that the dissolution was "peaceful". In reality, ethnic civil wars erupted in central Asia and Transcaucasia, killing hundreds of thousands and brutally displacing even more, a process still under way.

It is hard to imagine a political act more extreme than abolishing what was still, for all its crises, a nuclear superpower state of 286 million citizens. And yet Yeltsin did it, as even his sympathisers acknowledged, in a way that was "neither legitimate nor democratic".

Having ended the Soviet state in a way that lacked legal or popular legitimacy - in a referendum nine months before, 76% had voted to preserve the union - the Yeltsin ruling group soon became fearful of real democracy. And indeed Yeltsin's armed overthrow of the Russian parliament soon followed.

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

And, as a one-time Yeltsin supporter wrote later, "almost everything that happened in Russia after 1991 was determined to a significant extent by the divvying-up of the property of the former USSR". Soviet elites took much of the state's enormous wealth with no regard for fair procedures or public opinion. To enrich themselves, they wanted the most valuable state property distributed from above, without the participation of legislatures. They achieved that, first by themselves, through "spontaneous nomenklatura privatisation", and after 1991, through Kremlin decrees issued by Yeltsin.

Fearful for their dubiously acquired assets and even for their lives, the new property holders were as determined as Yeltsin to limit or reverse the parliamentary electoral democracy initiated by Gorbachev. In its place they strove to create a political system devoted to and corrupted by their wealth, at best a "managed" democracy. Hence their choice of Vladimir Putin, a vigorous man from the security services, to replace the enfeebled President Yeltsin in 1999. And uncertain how long they could actually retain their immense property, they were more interested in stripping its assets than investing in it. The result was an 80% decline in investment in Russia's economy by the end of the 1990s - and the nation's demodernisation. Given such a record, it is scarcely surprising that Putin's attempt to reassert state control over Russia's oil and gas industries is so popular.

So why did so many western commentators hail the breakup of the Soviet Union as a "breakthrough" to democracy? Their reaction was based mainly on anti-communist ideology and hopeful myths.

Yeltsin abolished the Soviet Union with the backing of the nomenklatura elites - pursuing the "smell of property like a beast after prey", as Yeltsin's chief minister put it - and an avowedly pro-democracy wing of the intelligentsia. Traditional enemies in the pre-Gorbachev Soviet system, they colluded in 1991 largely because the intelligentsia's radical market ideas seemed to justify nomenklatura privatisation.

But the most influential pro-Yeltsin intellectuals were neither coincidental fellow travellers nor real democrats. Since the late 1980s they had insisted that free-market economics and large-scale private property would have to be imposed on Russian society by an "iron hand" regime using "anti-democratic measures". Like the property-seeking elites, they saw Russia's newly elected legislatures as an obstacle. Admirers of Chile's Augusto Pinochet, they said of Yeltsin: "Let him be a dictator!" Not surprisingly, they cheered (along with the US government and mainstream media) when he used tanks to destroy Russia's popularly elected parliament in 1993.

Political and economic alternatives still existed in Russia after 1991, and none of the factors contributing to the end of the Soviet Union were inexorable. But even if democratic and market aspirations were among them, so were cravings for power, political coups, elite avarice, extremist ideas and widespread perceptions of illegitimacy and betrayal. It should have been clear which would prevail.

· Stephen Cohen is professor of Russian studies at New York University and the author of Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia. This is an edited version of an article in the current issue of The Nation.

· At Comment is free, Brian Wilson writes on Putin's moves to take back state control of Russian oil and gas.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Roberts Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10-Jul-2008 at 22:23
For many central and eastern European states a very good thing.
USSR was rotten from its very foundation - a state which spends 20 % of its yearly budget to military and one of the main sources for budget income is selling alcohol to its population - certainly can't last long.


Actually USSR is still alive, visit Belarus - it is the living museum of "communism".


Edited by Roberts - 10-Jul-2008 at 22:30
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Kevin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 10-Jul-2008 at 23:23
Originally posted by Roberts Roberts wrote:

For many central and eastern European states a very good thing.
USSR was rotten from its very foundation - a state which spends 20 % of its yearly budget to military and one of the main sources for budget income is selling alcohol to its population - certainly can't last long.


Actually USSR is still alive, visit Belarus - it is the living museum of "communism".


I've always wanted to visit Belarus.Smile
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-Jul-2008 at 00:25
The most bizarre area with all the crazy Soviet stuff alive as never before is the Transnistrian Moldavian Republic. All the Lenin and Marx monuments are still in the places where they were 30 years ago.  LOL  It's like a time machine...
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Anton Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-Jul-2008 at 13:07
Originally posted by Roberts Roberts wrote:

- a state which spends 20 % of its yearly budget to military and one of the main sources for budget income is selling alcohol to its population - certainly can't last long.
I don't know about the military (there are other states spending too much of their budgets for military operations and nobody consider them rotten) but major source of Soviet budget were oil and gas as it is now for Russia. Again, monopoly for production and trade of alcohol existed not only in USSR but for instance in modern Sweden.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Panther Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11-Jul-2008 at 22:25
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"In addition, a growing number of Russian intellectuals have come to believe that something essential was lost - a historic opportunity to democratise and modernise Russia by methods more gradualist, consensual and less traumatic, and thus more fruitful and less costly, than those adopted after 1991."
 
 
It's not our fault, it yours...Confused That sounds like a cop out to me!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote hugoestr Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12-Jul-2008 at 04:38
Where does it say that it is not our fault, it is yours, Panther?

I actually found this essay very thought provoking because it challenges the common interpretation of what happened. We often get too comfortable with our ideas to see new patterns. In a way, this is what happened to the USSR, and its ideological blindness helped destroy it.

Also, we got to beware that by bringing sudden change we are setting up a future conflict.

To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12-Jul-2008 at 06:30
I can say only, that this essay shows a very little understanding of the Soviet/Russian history and the Russian people by the author.
 
The important thing IMO however is that the West and the USA in particular should have understood that it was not Russia that lost the cold war and thus is "defeated party." But it's Russia itself who freed herself from the fake communist ideology.
 
It would facilitate a lot of things if the Westerners would think that way...
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Seko Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12-Jul-2008 at 06:44
You are right Sarmat12. This was not an overt war between the two states. It wasn't even a CIA covert operation that led to the downfall of communist ideology leading up to the Soviet collapse. Russia evolved and that resulted in revolution (can't think of a better word at the moment) Russian society should get credit for the mechanisms in place that led to Yeltsin overthrowing the old guard.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote ulrich von hutten Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12-Jul-2008 at 07:31

This matter is too complex to treat it in few words, but i will try.

The downfall of the socialistic countries was one of the worst things that happend in the last century.

Might be the people of these nations don't see it like, cause the most of them are living in freedom today. Might be the economic situation has improved, but even this isn't a fact. Cause like everywhere else only a few will participate in the gold rush.

Here i only would remind to the situation of the retirees in Russia.
 
The downfall however, that was an excellent work of the capitalistic manipulators in the west, brought the first face of the capitalism out. The so called Globalism began to be an excellent weapon for the capitalists. Sneaky disfranchisment for the workers was the aftermath. A counterbalance to capitalism didn't excist anymore and the alternative to the capialistic systems had obviously failed.
 
But the bill will be added later, after the holding class can't get enough and will come to it's limits.
 
You must not be a prophet to say that a collapse of the capitalism will follow soon!
 
 

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carpathian Wolf Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12-Jul-2008 at 09:01
Originally posted by Sarmat12 Sarmat12 wrote:

The most bizarre area with all the crazy Soviet stuff alive as never before is the Transnistrian Moldavian Republic. All the Lenin and Marx monuments are still in the places where they were 30 years ago.  LOL  It's like a time machine...
 
Because they live in the past. They're still waiting for the USSR to rise up and etc etc cue soviet bad guy music.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pikeshot1600 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12-Jul-2008 at 16:42
Originally posted by Sarmat12 Sarmat12 wrote:

I can say only, that this essay shows a very little understanding of the Soviet/Russian history and the Russian people by the author.
 
The important thing IMO however is that the West and the USA in particular should have understood that it was not Russia that lost the cold war and thus is "defeated party." But it's Russia itself who freed herself from the fake communist ideology.
 
It would facilitate a lot of things if the Westerners would think that way...
 
I would agree that the author has a flawed understanding of what political evolution might have been like under the USSR.  There were, as there usually are, too many vested interests in place to have expected a "democratic" Russian empire (what the USSR was).
 
That the USSR's breakup occurred was not, however, in Russia's interests.  They have exerted, and will continue to exert, effort to regain influence and control of the more important SSRs, and it is more difficult when those are not under direct Russian control.
 
As far as what Russia is now, and what she can become, I have no clue as to what the Russians think about that.  How important the Orthodox Church might be now; what Russians think about "Old Russia" and its position in the world/Europe; how they are viewing their diminishment as a global power and presence.....I do not have any feel for that.
 
Communism as practiced there was absolute state power behind a socialist mask.  It is unlikely anyone thought about it as anything else after the 1930s.  By the 1980s it fell apart economically because it had not changed much in 50 years.  Too many vested interests for it to have changed. 
 
Now, are the vested interests just able to afford better suits and Western cars?  How has the situation changed for the better in Russia, and for her neighbors?  Is the bureaucracy much different now than 20 years ago?  If KGB calls itself something different now, is it?  Was it in the 1990s?
 
 
 
 


Edited by pikeshot1600 - 13-Jul-2008 at 00:39
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote hugoestr Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12-Jul-2008 at 17:15
Oh, and here is that potential future conflict that I was talking about:

http://www.allempires.net/forum_posts.asp?TID=24825

Also, it would be good to review what the author is saying. He is saying that many Russians yearn for the old system because it gave them better economic security.

And their take on why the USSR collapse was

1. Gorbachev botched the reforms
2. Yeltsin made a power play to get rid of Gorbachev
3. Today's elites rushed to get most of the state's property in their hands.

If Russian feel this way, we may be heading into trouble
To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Panther Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12-Jul-2008 at 23:53
Originally posted by hugoestr hugoestr wrote:

Where does it say that it is not our fault, it is yours, Panther?
 
My fault, Nahhh...! Well i guess it was partly my fault?  I did after all support Regan, the Pope and other Western Democracies who had a hand in the confrontation. Wink

Quote
I actually found this essay very thought provoking because it challenges the common interpretation of what happened. We often get too comfortable with our ideas to see new patterns. In a way, this is what happened to the USSR, and its ideological blindness helped destroy it.
 
Thought provoking, sure. But, what i got from it wasn't so much as a new form of interpretation, but the impression of trying too find a scapegoat for the reason of their humiliatingly shocking change?  Then again, that was yesterday. Maybe out of fairness, i ought to re-read it and see if my view are still the same!

Quote
Also, we got to beware that by bringing sudden change we are setting up a future conflict.
 
Don't look at me, i'm not always in support for change in the world just for the heck of it. I'm just an insignificant conservative trying to live and make sense of this Wilsonian world!Hard%20Working
 
Oops... heh... now i am engaging in cop outs! Rolling%20Eyes
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote hugoestr Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13-Jul-2008 at 12:57
Oh, I see what you are saying now, Panther.

I don't see the position presented as a cop out as much as a different perspective on what happened. And if this is actually what people believe, for all practical purposes that is reality.

For example, the conventional interpretation of the Versailles Treaty what that it brought a humiliated defeat to the Germans because of its terms. Recently I read a historian saying that they read the treaty, and that they found it to be actually fair. But it doesn't really matter if it was objectively fair: many Germans felt it humiliated them, and this helped to trigger the rise of the Nazi regime.

Also, to me the most dangerous thing about this perspective is that it mixes two subjective ideas into a fact. Today's Russian elites did plunder the properties of the state. This is the fact. But the two subjective ideas, that Yeltsin made a power play and that Gorbachev botched the reforms, can be fatal in the long run.
To judge the fatherless and the oppressed, that the man of the earth may no more oppress.


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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13-Jul-2008 at 13:14
Sorry to interject at this point, but I feel the following is relevant as it is another symptom of the disgraceful state of affairs in modern Russia.  It was forwarded to me via a near eastern history network from the Canadian Tajik community. 

Just before you watch, I am advising you that it is very disturbing and enraging:

http://www.youtube.com/v/KUoP-WCN0xc&hl=en&fs=1
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Panther Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13-Jul-2008 at 20:36
@ Hugoestr 
 
Oh... ok... i think i follow what your saying?
 
I'm certainly no psychic, but once the Soviet Union fell, i often wondered what future lay in store for the populace. As an additonal point to your example. reading from the first half of the 20th century history does seem to offer an example of Germany between the two world wars, serving as a warning for what can (but not neccessarily will) happen after the embarrassing fall of an authoritarian state. I am sure that will always in the back of our minds.
 
So yes, i see the danger that you are talking about. Sure, i think it can indeed happen again, except with a Russian twist. I do think it is still to hard to tell whether Russia slips back into an authoritarian mode, or continues on it's way to democracy in it's own slipshod way. When the USSR fell, i gave them a 50/50 chance. Now, it does look to be more of 40% chance for democracy vs. 60% for them slipping back into their old habits?


Edited by Panther - 13-Jul-2008 at 20:38
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Panther Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13-Jul-2008 at 20:43
@ Zagros
 
That is absolutely disgusting. One thing i am curious about. Since when did the Russians supremacists adopt the Ku Klux Klan dress and cross burning tactics?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote pikeshot1600 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13-Jul-2008 at 21:17
Panther:
 
If Russia slips back into an authoritarian mode, it may be because that is the Russian preference.  Notice anything familiar about this? :
 
 
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Panther Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 13-Jul-2008 at 21:46
Pikeshot: Is it the old Russian imperial coat of arms?
 
 Something else i noticed after you captured my imagination
 
 
 


Edited by Panther - 13-Jul-2008 at 21:54
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