Saturday, December 24, 2011

Excellent Stephen Cohen article about the Soviet Union: The Soviet Union's Afterlife, from The Nation

His book "Rethinking the Soviet Experience" comes highly recommended, and he's a legitimate academic, not a Stalinist. The article is Here In fact, he is/was an advocate of reform and Perestroika. Here are a few choice paragraphs taken out of context:

"In addition, a growing number of Russian intellectuals have come to believe that something essential was tragically lost—a historic opportunity, thwarted for centuries, to achieve the nation’s political and economic modernization by continuing, with or without Gorbachev, his Soviet reformation. While the Soviet breakup led American specialists back to cold war–era concepts of historical inevitability, it convinced many of their Russian counterparts that “there are always alternatives in history” and that a Soviet reformation had been one of the “lost alternatives”—a chance to democratize and marketize Russia by methods more gradualist, consensual and less traumatic, and thus more fruitful and less costly, than those adopted after 1991.

***

The economic dimensions of Belovezh were no less portentous. Dissolving the Union without any preparatory stages shattered a highly integrated economy. It 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 still blight Russian life today.

The economic motivation behind Soviet elite support for Yeltsin in 1991, as opposed to the “socialist” Gorbachev, was even more ramifying. As a onetime Yeltsin supporter wrote thirteen years 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.” Here too there were foreboding historical precedents. Twice before in twentieth-century Russia the nation’s fundamental property had been confiscated—the landlords’ vast estates and bourgeoisie’s industrial and other large assets in the revolution of 1917–18, and then the land and livestock of 25 million peasant farmers in Stalin’s collectivization drive. The aftereffects of both episodes plagued the country for years to come.

***

But the most influential pro-Yeltsin intellectuals, who played leading roles in his post-Soviet government, and who were hailed in Washington as “real reformers,” were neither coincidental fellow travelers 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 a recalcitrant Russian society by an “iron hand” regime. This “great leap,” as they extolled it, would entail “tough and unpopular” policies resulting in “mass dissatisfaction” and thus would necessitate “anti-democratic measures.” Like the property-seeking elites, they saw Russia’s newly elected legislatures as an obstacle. Admirers of Gen. Augusto Pinochet, who had brutally imposed economic change on Chile, they said of Yeltsin, now their leader, “Let him be a dictator!” Not surprisingly, they cheered (along with the Clinton administration and the American mainstream media) when he used tanks to destroy Russia’s popularly elected Parliament."

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