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On the Soviet Union

On the Soviet Union
(Coordinator Comment)

The collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980's was a great blow to the hopes of revolutionaries. Why did it collapse? The primary causes were political and economic and they were the result of the culture of war.

The immediate cause of the Soviet collapse was economic, as the Soviet Union lost the arms race and international competition with the West. The United States was able to profit from its imperialist exploitation of other countries, while socialism could only lose economically in that competition. By the end, the ruble collapsed as Soviet consumers turned to imports to satisfy their needs. They could not buy a good pair of leather boots or a good television set or a computer made in the Soviet Union, because all the boots and the electronics were swallowed up by military procurement. And, needless to say, there were no quality goods to export in order to balance imports.

Economic factors were linked to political and psychological factors. As the Soviet economist Latsis said at the time, "the gloomy background of the worsening market situation ... has a depressing effect on people." Their gloom deepened as a result of policy failures such as the explosion of the Chernobyl atomic power plant and the war in Afghanistan (see US military analysis of Afghan war).

Another factor was the lack of honest information, the secrecy and propaganda that is central to the culture of war. As contradictions mounted the Soviet people became more and more cynical about the propaganda of government-controlled media. It was common to hear the Russian people say that you could find truth anywhere except in Pravda and the news anywhere except in Izvestia. This was exacerbated by the propaganda warfare carried out by the West in Radio Free Europe and by dissidents in self-published Samizdat.

The command-administrative model of war-communism hobbled economic development. As the article by Latsis put it, "The glitter of [the war-time economic] miracle blinded us for decades, and the command-administrative methods of the extensively developing economy took firm root in the country."

When, at the end, the Gorbachev administration realized that they would have to convert military industry to civilian production, they could not even get the Defense Ministry to give them an accurate list of defense industries (See Agaev remarks to the United Nations). In other words, the Soviet Union had developed its own military-industrial complex.

All of these factors accumulated on top of a profound alienation of the Soviet people that had grown up over the years as the country remained in the grips of the culture of war. In the Stalin years, not only was the economy devoted to the arms race, but information was controlled in the form of propaganda and dissidents were sent to labor camps. People did not feel free to discuss this, and most people did not participate in governance. Although women were more equal in the work force than in the West, at the top the Communist Party was all men. Photos of the ruling Politburo showed old men covered with war medals like so many old military generals.

Labor camps were largely disbanded by the time of the Brezhnev years, but the alienation remained. And by the time of Gorbachev, it was too late. The economic collapse and the loss of the war in Afghanistan came on top of generations of alienation. Few seemed to care when the government collapsed.

What has been learned? Perhaps the best analysis is that of Joe Slovo, writing from the standpoint of the South African Communist Party which played a leading role in the revolutionary victory over apartheid. In his famous 1989 article, Slovo argues that socialism itself has not failed, but that it must develop a real democracy, including for "all citizens the basic rights and freedoms of organisation, speech, thought, press, movement, residence, conscience and religion; full trade union rights for all workers including the right to strike, and one person one vote in free and democratic elections." To this list one needs to add the free flow of honest information. These are all basic principles of a culture of peace and are incompatible with a culture of war.

The Soviet collapse has also shown that a socialist culture of war cannot win out over a capitalist culture of war on economic terms, and we need a new strategy for revolution in the 21st Century.

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game administrator Jun. 13 2019,18:22
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