ETERNAL MALAISE

Sunday was the 24th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. I remember watching this TV broadcast of a young Peter Jennings in Berlin like it was yesterday. Aside from 9/11, which I/we remember for how awful it was, this is one of the only things in my life that I remember in the kind of excruciating detail that comes with the awareness of being witness to at a significant moment.

At the time, the evening stood out for me as the first time – I had just turned 11 – that my bedtime was unconditionally waived. Even on cable, which we had, there still just wasn't much news on TV in 1989. CNN was in its infancy and the major networks didn't preempt regular programming. But everything that was available, we watched. I made it to about one in the morning.

It also stood out because my dad cried. All four of my grandparents are from Poland. My dad, like most Americans of Eastern European stock, was fiercely anti-communist. The lack of freedom in Poland and the rest of the Eastern Bloc was a regular topic of conversation. He cried because for so long people had suffered and now they would not have to. When the symbol of restricted movement between the East and West fell, we all knew that the world was about to become a very different place.

It is indeed very different, but not in the way that the commentary of that time imagined. For Americans, life changed inasmuch as the Cold War was no longer the framework in which we understood economics, politics, international affairs, and our own society. For the people living in the soon-to-be-post-Soviet parts of Europe and Asia, they may have expected that their lives would improve. In time, both groups would be disappointed.

Now that American-style free market democracy has established itself as, to paraphrase The End of History, the final form of human social organization the world finds itself in a persistent malaise. When no alternative exists – in fact, when no alternative can even be imagined or proposed – what are dissatisfied people supposed to do? Our society encourages them to work within the existing institutions to reform the system to their liking, a process with a tendency to protect the status quo and weed out any real reform about 100% of the time. When people cannot believe, even if it constitutes wishful thinking, that the Other Way is better, what else is there to do but feel powerless and aimless? This is It. This is the system. This is how we all must govern ourselves from now on. These are the rules under which we will live and with which our interactions with one another will be defined. Is it any wonder that so many people here and around the world look at politics with such overwhelming apathy?

For the ex-communists, the rude awakening was discovering that the Soviet-style communist system, which they believed to suck, was being replaced with another system that sucks. In fact, it might suck more. There is and has been a tendency for Americans, and westerners in general, to paint an overly optimistic picture of the glories of capitalism and democracy. The peoples of the Eastern Bloc might well have imagined that they were about to tear down their ossified system and replace it with a far superior one. Twenty-four years later, precious little has changed. Sure, there is more shit to buy; Moscow has American fast food restaurants and Russians can waste their money on all the same gadgets and consumer goods on which Americans waste money. But places that were grim, underdeveloped, and poor under communism remain grim, underdeveloped, and poor after two-plus decades of capitalism. Russians and Poles and East Germans learned quickly that capitalism shares an important feature with their communist systems: it has a small number of Winners and the overwhelming majority of the population gets the shaft.

If they were expecting otherwise when they threw off the shackles of the Evil Empire, surely they must be disappointed. A little truth-in-advertising could have prepared them for the fact that capitalism would do very little to improve their lives, and that the transition to it would mostly serve to replace one system that exploits people with a different one. The big difference is that now there is no alternative, no mysterious border to gaze across and think, "Surely their way must be better." We are left as nations and as a planet to wonder: If our way of life is so self-evidently great that no alternatives exist or need to exist, then why is everyone so unhappy? Why does everything, for lack of a more sophisticated description, still suck?

Old-school anticommunists would answer that it does not suck; that the system has worked as intended and rewarded those whose talents and achievements deserve to be rewarded. That group of people is small, of course. Our system is one of staggering inequality. It replaces the control of centralized bureaucracy with the control of banks and debt. We are told that our lives are better because we have cars and 30000 channels and 60" TVs, and that even the poorer members of the working class can afford these things (on credit). But that persistent feeling that everything is not quite right, that capitalism simply privatizes the job of making your life dreary, never goes away for long. While we are encouraged to make ourselves fat and stupid with beer and Pizza Hut and nine hours of football on Saturday and Sunday, none of that is able to drown out completely the nagging question, "Is this it?"

The answer is yes, and it has been for more than twenty years. This is it. The fall of communism replaced six with a half dozen. All of the same inefficiencies, inequalities, and indignities remain; only the names and titles of the people and institutions who make it so have really changed. They will not change again anytime soon.

83 thoughts on “ETERNAL MALAISE”

  • "Aside from 9/11, which I/we remember for how awful it was, this is one of the only things in my life that I remember in the kind of excruciating detail that comes with the awareness of being witness to at a significant moment."

    We're almost the same age, Ed. I remember the Challenger blowing up, we were watching it live in school. That impacted me, is a more vivid memory, than the Berlin wall coming down. Significance is debatable, I suppose.

  • I was nine, and nicely conditioned to accept the wall coming down as a decisive victory of good over evil. What do I remember? Hasslehoff's keyboard-tie, and that awful fucking Scorpions song (which I thought was awesome, because I was nine).

    Fitting that you should mention 9/11, another example of a moment we all thought "This will change everything", but actually changed very little except the tone and pitch of various propaganda machines.

  • Eh, I think our lives are better because of the Bill Of Rights, Laurence v. Texas, and the fact that for pulling that same shit here, Pussy Riot would've paid a fine and been sent on their way.

    I won't pretend that capitalism as an economic system has proven to be the magic wand for Second World misery–living about 200 years behind the rest of the Western World will tend to fuck up the infrastructure in ways that the open market can't fix quick-sharp. But communism as a political system is so egregiously, objectively awful that even the worst of American excesses tend to be par for the course under the sickle.

    Again, just because they suck worse doesn't mean we suck any less than we do. It means that what was wrong with the Second World wasn't communism–it was totalitarianism, and that never really went away; it just got broken up into gangster fiefdoms or whatever the fuck you want to call Putin's Russia.

    Everything you say about the First World's inequity and Darwinian cruelty and empty consumerism is right, and inasmuch as that's what we offered the Second World, yeah, we sold them a pig in a poke, and I'd hate to be them. But…I dunno. It seems to me that not believing in anything (which is what we do) is maybe somehow better than believing in a lie (which is what they did.) Or maybe not–I could easily be argued into agreeing that everything is awful and hopeless…

  • Hey now Ed, the 90's were a pretty good time. There were jobs. There was actual wage growth. There was a goddamn budget surplus — a surplus!

    Looking back we'll see that 9/11 and the Cheney presidency really was a big deal. The bungled occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan bankrupted America, got a lot of people killed, and pretty much allowed China to laugh whenever the US brought up human rights issues, forever.

    The 90's were a sweet-spot for capitalism. Fukuyama could _only_ have written his essay in 1989 when things were indeed looking up. And yeah, there was a huge bubble, but it was laughably easy to get a decent job back then. Hell, it was un-American _not_ to get fired once in a while.

    But hey, it was worth throwing it all down the toilet because Clinton got a hummer.

  • Nailed it as usual, Ed. I sometimes wonder what it must have been like to live before the only two non-fringe ideologies became neoliberalism and neoliberalism with a human face. I read about things like the general strike in Seattle and I can hardly wrap my mind around an America where radical ideologies were an actual threat to the regime.

    Now, I don't know if any of those ideologies were better than free market democracy (and no doubt many of them were much worse), and obviously life in this country is a lot better now than it was then. That said, it's hard to have any political imagination or enthusiasm when the regime can only and will only be tweaked at the margins.

  • Ed, I have enjoyed and admired your writing for a long time. Your blog is like an angry ray of sunshine in my week. So it is with the deepest respect that I say, today's post is goddamed retarded.

    Have you ever been to Berlin? I can assure you they don't want the wall back. Do you personally know anyone from Eastern Europe? Meaning people who have actually lived there, not third-generation Americans whose ancestors came over in 1904? They really, really prefer the new system.

    Yes, Poland has its problems. They're still undoing the damage from 44 years of Communist rule. It must be remembered, that was preceded by Nazi dictatorship, the Holocaust, and brutal warfare between Germany and the Red Army which destroyed most of the infrastructure and inflicted casualties in the millions. Yes, millions. 9/11 was like a quiet afternoon on the Eastern front.

    For all that, Poland is a lot better off than it was 25 years ago. It is well on its way to becoming a comfortable, modern European country. Another Belgium, if you will. That progress required a lot of courage and hard work; you may not value or respect it, but they do. Much the same is true of other countries in the region.

    If you'd specified Russia, you might have a point. It's an open question whether the average Russian is better off now than he was under Brezhnev. In many ways he isn't. As the late Iain Banks observed, for decades the Russians were fed an evil caricature of Western capitalism by Communist propaganda, in which a tiny class of oligarchs ruled over the struggling poor; and they now seem to have made that caricature a reality. But you didn't name Russia at all. So understand this: Eastern Europe is not Russia.

  • à eau, 9/11 changed nothing? We are now able to say things like, "sorry, people who want to kill us, we've had enough of having our people killed for essentially no reason, also, our philosophy has matured quite remarkably since "gods" were required to give us a reason to contribute to our social sphere; you are welcome to fight our robots though if you truly believe we are the fount of all evil."

    Ed's thesis is sophist b.s., by the bye: which (so-called) real reforms have been quelled in the last 50 years?

  • Democratic Socialism works pretty well. Just ask the people of Scandinavia.

    And that's where we need to go next. Does it happen in my lifetime? I dunno, Ed. I think that kind of depends on you and my children.

    So get off your ass, quit whining and make some good happen for us old bastids.

  • Living in Kyrgyzstan and traveling a lot through post-Soviet countries, I've definitely had a number of conversations that ended with some variation of "life was so much better in soviet days", but there are also people that recognize that there was the occasional mass murder in Soviet times that cleared out the city's entire top-level government. I think maybe, on both sides of the curtain, people look back with a bit more nostalgia than is really fair or justified?

  • c u n d gulag says:

    As a Russian-speaking adjunct Theatre Arts professor, I chaperoned the Russian classes trip to Moscow in 1995.

    It was the first trip the Russian professor had organized, since the fall of USSR. This was just as Western restaurants, shops, boutiques, and car dealers, started coming in – McDonalds had just opened up a HUGE place a few months before, right near Red Square. There were a lot of luxury cars on the roads – more than one might think for such a poor country.

    I talked to a lot of regular folks, and asked them which system they preferred, the old Soviet one, or the new capitalist one?

    And pretty much all of them said, in one form or another, some variation of, 'The old one. Except for the Communist Party leaders, everybody had about the same amount. It was almost nothing, but it was the same amount of nothing. Now, you have more really, really rich people, but also more poor people. The old system was bad, but it was more fair.'

    What had happened was that the Russian Mafia guys, "The Krisha (The Roof)" who had run black markets and knew how to handle transportation in a country with few roads, became the first ones to take advantage of the new system.
    They became the countries Plutocrats.
    And now Russia and China battle for who is 2nd to the US in the number of billionaires.
    We, of course, have many, many, more!
    USA!
    USA!!
    USA!!!

    Sign me up for a system which is more equitable.
    Socialism sounds pretty damn good to me.
    But then, never having been a "Job Creator," isn't that what a "moocher" and "taker" like me WOULD say?

  • Around 1982, someone told me this short, funny yet cruel joke:

    "What's the difference between capitalism and communism? Capitalism is the exploitation of man by man, while communism is the contrary…"

    At the time, the biggest difference I could see was that the West had a middle class. Looks like Republicans have aince taken care of that one…

    Funny you should mention the tv cause someone else also told me back then that in the Soviet Union, everyone had a TV and an outdoor antenna to show for it, which was a sign of "people being hip and happy"…

  • The point is not that communism was great and people were better off under it (the truth of which depends on who you ask – even in the former Soviet-bloc countries). The point, I think, is that between 1989 and 1991 the one serious alternative to capitalism disappeared. Even if that alternative was deeply flawed, the one thing it did, by virtue of its very existence, was to prove that there was (or could be) another way to do things.

    Now, to quote Margaret Thatcher, there is no alternative. Capitalism is the only game in town. If one mentions the word "socialism" the immediate response is to invoke the Soviet system as irrefutable proof that socialism can never work, despite the fact that there are alternative ways to try and achieve socialism *that have actually been tried.* No matter, the failure of the Eastern Bloc means that capitalism won and questioning it is pointless.

  • grumpygradstudent says:

    This argument reminds me of Marcuse's One Dimensional Man. Good book! He makes the argument that capitalism eventually co-opts any antagonistic forces.

  • I remember the wall coming down. One regret I have is not seeing it when I could have. It was a part of history. When it came down we all honestly believed things would get better. That money channelled to the military could go to schools.

    @eau: as an Australian somethings will be lost re: 9/11. Sure more police and cameras, no bins in the rail stations, but by and large life hasn't really changed here.
    It used to be that as a US or Canadian citizen all you had to do was point your car in the respective direction and "answer me these questions three." That was it. Now we have to show a special ID as I only recently learned. With the Iraq fiasco the US has lost most of its credibility, with the carryings on by the Teabaggers the US has pretty much come a cropper on the world stage.

    Some of the comments up thread have said it far better than I on this. I'm looking forward to hearing Arslan's comments.

  • I was 11 at that point, living in a small village north of Berlin we didnt really feel the impact that much.

    At first it was like paradise. They(West german government) allowed us to exchange at rates 2:1 when black market rates had been all the way to 20:1 at some point. We could buy all the chocolate and yoghurt and bananas (bananas were a running joke in the GDR due to their rarity, long lines would form sometimes several blocks). But then reality hit, my parents couldnt get a job anymore. Things got darker. Fortunately eventually things got better but alot of people lost their homes (due to the fact they had bought land in the GDR but after the Fall the contract was void) and more.

    East Germany may not have had the bling of the western world. But we had a better education(atleast as far as STEM was concerned), a better social net (next to no homeless, no pan handling, no unemployment) and ultimately despite everyone claiming the communist block was bankrupt alot less debt than West Germany(per capita).

  • I visited East Germany with my Dad before the wall fell. I was in West Germany when the wall fell. We have a piece of it.

    I remember that West Germany offered East Germans a 1:1 exchange rate for their money, which was almost worthless. I remember my normally quiet and grumpy neighbors set off fireworks. For one day, at least, that old couple were friendly to their American neighbors.

    Man, those Germans know how to celebrate. I know what it sounds like when an entire country cheers over something truly meaningful.

  • It turns out that the capitalist system creates nearly the same situation that the communist system does in practice — a ruling class of the ultra-wealthy hoarding most of the wealth and resources and dictating the lives of the working class. The big difference is that the capitalist system does so while repeating the lie that anyone can move from the poor class to the ultra-wealthy class with enough effort.

    Well it turns out that that's a load of horseshit. Most of the members of the ultra-wealthy class are second- and third-generation heirs that have never done a day of work in their lives save for signing the transfers of title from their parents' holdings to their own, and letting the enormous machines run themselves and continue to print money. Meanwhile, many of the poor working class bust their asses every single day in ways that the ruling class is literally too weak to achieve, and they remain members of the poor working class. It turns out that you can't have an entire nation of princes — someone has to shovel the shit eventually, and nobody's going to pay a whole lot for shit-shovelers.

    America has devised an ingenious system for disguising this, however. Ship out all of the shit-shoveling jobs to countries where even the shoveling of shit is preferable to what happened before, and give the poor working class occupations that are ever so slightly above shit-shoveling. Then, give them all credit cards to preserve the illusion that they are paid well for these tasks.

    This is the really clever part, because in the issuing of credit and the heavy propagandization of a lifestyle that depends heavily upon credit, you accomplish several goals.

    1. Deceive the neo-proletariat into believing that their situation is better than it really is.
    2. Keep the neo-proletariat firmly in its place with the heavy iron shackles of debt
    3. Increase the wealth of the ultra-wealthy ruling class and solidify its rule even further by extracting yet more money from the neo-proletariat for the privilege of living underneath a crushing debt-load.

    Nothing exemplifies this more than the credit rating system. Keep in mind, always, that this system is not a measure of how responsible you are with money — a person that has never indebted themselves and has only acted with the utmost fiscal responsibility, only purchasing that which they can immediately and completely afford, is considered an unworkable liability under this system. The credit rating system is instead a measure of how good of a mark a person is; to wit, how reliably they can be fleeced of funds via interest and other debt-related fees. And this system is then established as they key to nearly all doors in the modern American life, to the point that even EMPLOYERS will check your credit rating, which has absolutely jack shit to do with your ability to get a job done.

    But hey, at least it's not communism, right?

  • Well it seems I have been summoned. Those of us who watch for these trends have noticed that in a number of former Soviet or Eastern Bloc countries, an increasing number of people are answering surveys saying they lived better under socialism. Since many of those regimes were not socialist by any Marxist definition and many of them were in fact corrupt, revisionist states(e.g. Romania), this is pretty significant. The media has some clever responses to these surveys. If most of the respondents are young, it is said that they never spent much time under the regime and therefore don't know enough about it. If the respondents are old, it is said that they are just being nostalgic. The latter is a very real possibility in some cases but there are plenty of objective indicators of how better or worse off people actually are.

    For example, we have the study by Lancet of the effects of privatization: http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(09)60005-2/abstract

    We can also look at countries like Albania, which prior to WWII had a population around half a million with about 90% illiteracy in 1940. Hoxha left it with literacy, women's rights, and about 1.5 million people(the result not only of free medical care but also the draining of wetlands which were breeding grounds of malaria-carrying mosquitoes). What has happened to Albania since then? Emigration, women trafficking, and even blood feuding has made a comeback.

    As for the question of Russia vs. "Eastern Europe"(funny, I thought Poland, Czech Republic, etc. moved to "Central Europe"), there is a good reason for the difference in the effects of privatization.

    First, countries like Poland did not go through "shock therapy" like in Russia. They waited it out and took their time. Second, and this is often more important, countries like Poland didn't have as much at stake, that is not as much to grab. Of course Poland had industries which were worth a lot but Russia had enterprises worth billions. In other words, there was simply more to steal.

    Another factor is that unlike Russians, Poles have a long history of being property owners and buying and selling. It must be remembered that for Great Russians, Belorussians, and many Ukrainians, they went from being communal peasants to either joining collective farms or in most cases, joining the urban proletariat after Soviet industrialization. These ethnic groups made up the intelligentsia, military officers, industrial workers, and bureaucrats. Thus they skipped an entire stage of having a market economy and buying and selling just isn't something in their history. They usually left this to various minority groups and like in other societies, it was looked down upon. This is why after 1991 many of the "New Russians" were Armenians, Jews, Azerbaijanians, etc. It wasn't some kind of Jewish conspiracy as the anti-Semites allege but rather a simple fact that these people historically understood the concept of markets, plus they had large diaspora communities abroad which could assist them in making business connections. Russians simply didn't understand this, which is why so many people saw their vouchers for state enterprises as worthless paper.

    Living in Russia today I can tell you that this attitude hasn't changed much. People want to be businessmen but they don't want to understand capitalism or work at it. Almost every year I see examples of this incompetence in my daily life. There's a lot of nepotism, stealing, etc.

    As for the economic system of "Communism," the worst error is to assume that this was one system from 1917 onward, in all countries. In fact it was radically different in different places and at different times. It is also worth noting that while the system did ultimately fail, it did so under a great deal of external pressure. People like to act as if in 1917 the bourgeoisie of Russia and the other imperialist powers just threw up their hands and said, "Well SHIT! I guess we lost. Better sit back and watch how this plays out." This never happened. What did happen was a bloody civil war, invasion by numerous countries including imperialist powers, espionage, blockades, etc. Later this would be followed up by the largest land invasion in history, which consequently led to the bloodiest theater in the bloodiest war. From 1917 till 1945, the USSR was either at war, or on the brink of war.

    Therefore when people speak of the superior freedoms or economic system of the US, for example, one might question how we could truly know this given that the United States has never experienced anything like what the USSR did in 1941-45, much less all the above-mentioned threats. Would we have such civil rights if, instead of losing a couple of buildings, we had an invading army burning entire towns and shooting people en masse based on their ethnicity? Would our market economy hold out when that enemy managed to reach the Mississippi as the Germans reached the Volga(the extent of their empire)? I doubt it. And let us not forget the result of the first workers' revolution, one which according to contemporary, hostile sources ushered in a sense of freedom unheard of in that time- the Paris Commune. Freedom it had, arguably more so than any 20th century socialist country AND capitalist countries. But it was drowned in an orgy of blood, mass shootings, rape, and looting. This event was in the memory of every early 20th century Communist intellectual.

    Some say this does not excuse the horrors of Communism. I would answer that nothing can excuse genuine atrocities, but I would also then ask what justifies capitalism's atrocities, which stretch back far before Karl Marx ever picked up a pen and continue to the present day? What justifies a system, backed up by armed force, which creates a world where we produce more than enough food for all people yet somehow millions die every year due to malnutrition and preventable disease? What gives the bourgeoisie the right to colonize, enslave, and commit genocide all over the world at the dawn of their revolution, then insist that the revolution of working people will only be legitimate so long as we do it by their rules(which didn't work in Chile), and that we not harm a hair on anyone's head. Whenever excess mortality occurs under a red flag it's "genocide" and "murder," but when people starve only because they cannot afford food which is plentiful, it's merely "unfortunate." My rule of thumb is that those who show such indignation at the horrors of 20th century socialism are simply ignorant of capitalist history. If they were not, they would realize that this is the absolute worst argument to make against Communism. Essentially it amounts to "tu quoque," and a particularly bad use of it considering that far more people have been killed in the pursuit of profit than the construction of socialism.

    Whatever crimes 20th century Communism is guilty of- it is dead and gone. What justifies capitalism's continuing crimes? Why do we subject our entire lives to the needs of capital, to the profit motive of the few people? The claim that this is the best humanity can achieve, that this is the end of history, simply is not rational. Humanity must always strive for something better.

  • Just a side note for those who aren't interested in reading a long rant. In his book Globalization and its Discontents, former World Bank head Joe Stiglitz points out that the fall of the USSR was one of the largest increases in poverty in human history, not involving a war or some kind of plague. By contrast, over the past twenty years China has seen the largest decrease in poverty, which continues to this day. China is by no means socialist, but what it does do is reject the neo-liberal dogma which became so fashionable years ago.

  • There was a joke going around Russia that went:

    Everything the Communists told us about Communism was a lie.

    Unfortunately everything they told us about Capitalism was true.

  • Ed:

    I can’t discuss Poland authoritatively, but I grew up in the Soviet Union in the 1980's, and I find several problems with your post.

    It is my impression based on extensive personal experience that most people in Russia today do live much better than they did under Communism. There are no longer any kommunalka’s (sure, students who come to the capital do bunk up, just like they do in the West, but the practice of 2, 3, 4 families – mom, dad, a couple of kids to each – sharing a single apartment, with as many as 20 people to one bathroom and one kitchen is a thing of the past). People no longer have to deal with the indignity of endless lines and waiting lists for basic necessities. And almost everyone’s standard of living is considerably higher today. I have to add that the Soviet Union practiced really elaborate Potemkin Villages, so few Westerners have an accurate idea of how most people REALLY lived. You wouldn’t be the first American to think that being poor under Communism was pretty much the same thing as being poor in America. That idea is still wrong, though.

    A lot of people ARE nostalgic for the Old Regime, though, but the reasons, as I see, fall into the following categories:

    1. People of all socio-economic backgrounds hate, hate, HATE it that there are others who have better stuff. This is a part of Russian mentality that’s difficult to explain to Westerners, but it’s a major factor. I’m not arguing Russia is a meritocracy, or that there aren’t huge economic inequalities there of which one can make legitimate complaints, but in the minds of most people in that society, merit doesn’t matter either way – they think that if someone has more stuff, it’s unfair regardless of whether the person got it by hook and crook or by inventing a cure for cancer. Other people having it better than me is just wrong, plain and simple. Better a system in which 95% of the population is abjectly poor – at least then, the sight of someone’s BMW to your Honda won’t assault your eyeballs and make you lose sleep for weeks.

    2. People miss the “optimism” of the totalitarian system. In the Soviet Union, you didn’t talk about politics unless you were suicidal. Not even with family. As a result, the kind of ongoing bitterness we experience here, when you are a leftie, and your mom is a Teabagger, simply didn’t exist. The tensions secondary to political differences did not strain personal relationships. You found other stuff to talk about, and since you could only talk about anything within the narrow boundaries defined by the Party, there were no disagreements. There were no depressing things to read, either. News broadcasts were, until Perestroika, invariably sunny and upbeat. Crime statistics were never reported. “Diaries” like yours didn’t exist. Disabled people were confined to high-floor apartments, so it appeared on the street that everyone was healthy. Any information that reflected negatively in any way, shape or form on the regime or the economy was strictly suppressed, so at least people didn’t have to HEAR bad stuff.

    3. People miss the totalitarian decorum. Democracy is messy. Legislators say nasty things about their opponents, they say crazy things on the floor, they occasionally punch each other in the face. This is radically different from how dignified the proceedings are in a totalitarian regime.

    Lastly, I think it’s impossible to divorce the Communist economic system from the political oppression that sustains it. I don’t think it’s honest to pick and choose which elements demonstrate that what existed under Communism was some sort of an equivalent of what we have in the West and waive off all the other major issues as irrelevant. I don’t see how you can ignore the Soviet block’s internal passport regulations that severely restricted people’s ability to move even within the country in search of better economic opportunities; or the kolkhoz system, which was essentially medieval-style serfdom in that it legally bound farm workers to the land; or the great industrial cities that arose during World War II, whose workers – people who committed no crime, not even an ideological one – were kept as prisoners and could not leave for decades. I don’t know how you can divorce the Soviet-style economy from a system in which people were killed, tortured, imprisoned and confined to mental institutions not merely for being critical of the regime, but for something as innocuous as creating artwork or writing fiction that did not meet the aesthetic standards of some government official. Surely, there are people who think this system, in which you couldn’t utter 2 sentences without worrying about being sent to the Gulag, was better because it guaranteed everyone a bed somewhere. I just don’t believe it proves what you are trying to prove.

  • …. of course China has massive environmental problems, though they seem to be more motivated in fixing them than Americans.

  • "here are no longer any kommunalka’s (sure, students who come to the capital do bunk up, just like they do in the West, but the practice of 2, 3, 4 families – mom, dad, a couple of kids to each – sharing a single apartment, with as many as 20 people to one bathroom and one kitchen is a thing of the past)."

    Not true. I've visited people living in kommunalkas. Also with the immigrant workers they will sometimes live 40 to an apartment, and sometimes in train cars. That's in Moscow by the way.

    "People no longer have to deal with the indignity of endless lines and waiting lists for basic necessities."

    You should see the post office.

    " And almost everyone’s standard of living is considerably higher today."

    Nope.

    "I’m not arguing Russia is a meritocracy, or that there aren’t huge economic inequalities there of which one can make legitimate complaints, but in the minds of most people in that society, merit doesn’t matter either way – they think that if someone has more stuff, it’s unfair regardless of whether the person got it by hook and crook or by inventing a cure for cancer."

    I've worked in the houses of literal oligarchs, where they have toilet seats made of what appeared to be laminated gold leaf. I guarantee you none of these people invented anything, much less a cure for cancer. Nor are they smarter than anyone else. Some of them are quite stupid actually.

    "Crime statistics were never reported. “Diaries” like yours didn’t exist. "

    Feel free to provide evidence of higher crime then.

    "Disabled people were confined to high-floor apartments, so it appeared on the street that everyone was healthy."

    Now you can't miss them because they wheel themselves into metro cars begging for money.

    "Democracy is messy. "

    Russia has never had "democracy", even in the hypocritical liberal sense, since 1991. And this proves my point about how pro-capitalists always make these pathetic excuses for the destruction wrought by their system.

    "I don’t see how you can ignore the Soviet block’s internal passport regulations that severely restricted people’s ability to move even within the country in search of better economic opportunities; "

    Russia still has internal passports, even though it is no longer part of a Union of different republics. I'm beginning to wonder if you're actually from the USSR at all now. Have you not been keeping up with the news on anti-immigrant violence in Russia lately?

    "Surely, there are people who think this system, in which you couldn’t utter 2 sentences without worrying about being sent to the Gulag, "

    What do you think would have happened if you uttered the sentence "I think black peopleshould have full social equality" in 1930's Alabama? HINT: It involved rope.

    I'm not going to insult anyone's intelligence by saying that the USSR had free speech, but at the same time we do know now that throughout the whole Stalin era hundreds of thousands of citizens wrote letters to party officials, in some cases Stalin himself, complaining about various political questions. We also know that while many of these letters were never published, there is nothing to suggest that all these people were arrested. Since this went on for years, including after the Great Purge of 1936-38, we must ask how stupid these people must have been to keep writing complaining letters to party organs and members of the politburo if they were supposedly so afraid of being sent to the GULAG?

    Then again you're probably one of those Russians who considers everyone else to have been stupid cattle, much like the current regime and the "liberal opposition."

    I might also point out that the UK, US, and many other industrial countries had GULAGs, and in some cases places much worse than GULAGs, for several hundred years. The thing is that it wasn't called a GULAG, it was called "work."

  • I should have also pointed out that komunalkas will most likely get more popular as Putin packs more people into the capital by refusing to develop the rest of the country.

  • The worst thing to happen to America was the collapse of the Soviet Union. Because after that, we did myriad amounts of stupid shit because we could.

    And let's not forget that capitalism is an accident of history. Without the exploitation of the New World, we'd never have had all that surplus rapine to play with and waste away on a fucked up management and asset allocation system.

  • I was 30 when the wall came down. When I was in grade school, we were told that communist governments did awful, horrible things like requiring everybody to carry ID papers that a commissar could make them show anytime, and that they had to have internal passports to travel from city to city within their own countries.

    When I went to vote in the last election I was asked to show an ID, and if republicans get their way, so will every US citizen when they go to the polls. Americans stand meekly for hours, shoes in hand, waiting to be groped before they can get on an airplane.

    Police in Florida are tempting people with illegal drugs, then arresting those who succumb. Police in New Mexico arrested an innocent man and forced him to undergo invasive medical procedures because he "clenched his buttocks" during a traffic stop.

    It's almost as if there is a balance in the world that must be maintained, so that increasing liberty in one place requires its decrease somewhere else. Malaise may well be the most positive response we can have to the world today.

  • There are still statues of King Leopold II in Belgium. Apologists tell us he was simply a "man of his times." Yeah, exactly. The times were rife with wholesale destruction(e.g. in Germany's colonies), in India, Asia, the American South, and the slums of Manchester and London. But people made money off of this so we'll just ignore it and call it "messy."

    http://www.walkingbutterfly.com/2010/12/22/when-you-kill-ten-million-africans-you-arent-called-hitler/

  • Oh back to the topic of shitty post-Soviet Russian living standards, another serious problem is education. Nursery schools can be expensive and have long waiting lists, which often restricts people to living with their parents or forces them to put off having children(or their career in the case of some women). This greatly restricts peoples lives and their freedom of movement, but it's not "totalitarianism" because it's all in the name of private profit. Also an education reform passed this year is supposed to make all school subjects beyond a bare minimum for pay.

    Remember, if your entire life is controlled by the profit motives of businessmen, this is "democracy." If the state intervenes in every aspect of life(even if that's not really the case), it's "totalitarianism."

  • "Then again you're probably one of those Russians who considers everyone else to have been stupid cattle, much like the current regime and the "liberal opposition."

    Yes, I am one of those people who should be executed for being ideologically wrong, according to you.

    "I might also point out that the UK, US, and many other industrial countries had GULAGs, and in some cases places much worse than GULAGs, for several hundred years. The thing is that it wasn't called a GULAG, it was called "work."

    Thanks for insulting the memory of people who were tortured to death in the GULAGs. Sure, sure, your average American worker has it loads better than all those inmates who slept on the cement floor in unheated barracks for 500-calories-worth of rotten food a day. And sitting in a cubicle is sheer torture compared to the luxury of being pumped full of drugs for the crime of writing a surrealist poem. F*ck you. Seriously.

  • "I've worked in the houses of literal oligarchs, where they have toilet seats made of what appeared to be laminated gold leaf. I guarantee you none of these people invented anything, much less a cure for cancer. Nor are they smarter than anyone else. Some of them are quite stupid actually."

    Sorry, but I call BS on this one. Someone of your convictions worked for literal oligarchs? Really? Color me skeptical. Besides, none of what you said cancels out what I said. It doesn't matter that they didn't invent a cure for cancer. Had they done that, people still would have said they don't deserve to have anything more than a minimum.

    "Russia has never had "democracy", even in the hypocritical liberal sense, since 1991. And this proves my point about how pro-capitalists always make these pathetic excuses for the destruction wrought by their system."

    Now you are contradicting yourself. Since democracy, according to you, can only exist in a non-capitalist system, and Russia wasn't capitalist. It should have been a democracy. But wasn't. What a paradox.

    "Russia still has internal passports, even though it is no longer part of a Union of different republics. I'm beginning to wonder if you're actually from the USSR at all now. Have you not been keeping up with the news on anti-immigrant violence in Russia lately?"

    I was referring to prospiska.

    "Feel free to provide evidence of higher crime then."

    I am not your research assistant, and I am going to dig up statistic for you when you yourself don't provide any. As for how I know about higher crime, here is how: my grandfather was a detective in Sochi for many years. And a staunch communist. And after the restrictions on talking about his past cases were removed during Perestroika, he was free to talk about the staggering rates of violent crime in Russia, especially in big cities. Which makes sense, given how busy the law enforcement and the courts were going after the REAL criminals — you know, peasants who sold produce on the side, and writers who departed from the Socialist Realism model.

    "What do you think would have happened if you uttered the sentence "I think black peopleshould have full social equality" in 1930's Alabama? HINT: It involved rope.

    I'm not going to insult anyone's intelligence by saying that the USSR had free speech, but at the same time we do know now that throughout the whole Stalin era hundreds of thousands of citizens wrote letters to party officials, in some cases Stalin himself, complaining about various political questions. We also know that while many of these letters were never published, there is nothing to suggest that all these people were arrested. Since this went on for years, including after the Great Purge of 1936-38, we must ask how stupid these people must have been to keep writing complaining letters to party organs and members of the politburo if they were supposedly so afraid of being sent to the GULAG?"

    What a bunch of nonsense. First of all, being unable to say something in a particular spot in Alabama is in no way equivalent to being unable to say pretty much anything that hasn't been dictated by the government anywhere in the country.

    Second, if the "thousands" of people you claim wrote to Stalin complaining about this or that weren't afraid of being sent to the GULAG, it should be remembered that millions of people WERE sent to the GULAG. But hey, it's not a big deal. According to you, the GULAGs were no worse than an Amazon warehouse or your ordinary cubicle office. Maybe even better.

  • "Yes, I am one of those people who should be executed for being ideologically wrong, according to you."

    Don't remember saying anything like that, but then again you liberals are known for your lying. Anyway the execution will not be necessary. Given the nature of your comments about post-Soviet Russia, particularly its living standards, you'll most likely end up dying in some hilarious manner which gets captured and posted on Liveleak.

    "Thanks for insulting the memory of people who were tortured to death in the GULAGs. Sure, sure, your average American worker has it loads better than all those inmates who slept on the cement floor in unheated barracks for 500-calories-worth of rotten food a day. And sitting in a cubicle is sheer torture compared to the luxury of being pumped full of drugs for the crime of writing a surrealist poem. F*ck you. Seriously."

    You just proved my point about historical ignorance(and present ignorance too, apparently). I suggest you look up the history of the industrial revolution, slavery, child labor, workhouses, Victorian Britain, company towns, the Coal Wars, etc. And then you'll understand my comment. Millions of people worked in conditions often the same or even worse than some GULAGs and they were NEVER accused of any crime whatsoever. Their "crime" was to be "poor" or "racially inferior."

    So either get educated(see sources below) or you can go fuck yourself.

    Allen, Robert C. Farm to Factory
    Goldmann, Marshall I. The Piratization of Russia
    Bethmann, Otto The Good Old Days, They were Terrible!
    Newsinger, John The Blood Never Dried
    Losurdo, Domenico Liberalism: A Counter-History
    Mukherjee, Madhusree Churchill's Secret War
    Stiglitz, Joseph Globalization and its Discontents
    Thurston, Robert Life and Terror in Stalin's Russia
    Davies and Harris Stalin: A New History

  • "Don't remember saying anything like that, but then again you liberals are known for your lying. Anyway the execution will not be necessary. Given the nature of your comments about post-Soviet Russia, particularly its living standards, you'll most likely end up dying in some hilarious manner which gets captured and posted on Liveleak."

    In the last discussion we had before this one, you made the claim that people who make statements you don't like, even if they are not public officials, should be executed. Depending on the level of your outrage, of course. As for me dying in some hilarious matter, frankly, I don't care what you beat off to.

    "You just proved my point about historical ignorance(and present ignorance too, apparently). I suggest you look up the history of the industrial revolution, slavery, child labor, workhouses, Victorian Britain, company towns, the Coal Wars, etc. And then you'll understand my comment. Millions of people worked in conditions often the same or even worse than some GULAGs and they were NEVER accused of any crime whatsoever. Their "crime" was to be "poor" or "racially inferior."

    Your "education" has clearly been a waste. The Industrial Revolution and 19th-century slavery proves … that the Soviet Russia was better than post-Soviet Russia? Really, the most you can do is regurgitate information, to the extent that you have it. But you are clearly incapable of actual thought.

  • "In the last discussion we had before this one, you made the claim that people who make statements you don't like, even if they are not public officials, should be executed. Depending on the level of your outrage, of course. "

    Prove it.

    "Your "education" has clearly been a waste. The Industrial Revolution and 19th-century slavery proves … that the Soviet Russia was better than post-Soviet Russia?"

    No, well established facts show that Soviet Russia was better than the Russian Empire and post-Soviet Russia. I've already named some of the sources which can easily show you this.

    "Really, the most you can do is regurgitate information, to the extent that you have it."

    Regurgitate information compiled by various academics and researchers. Yeah, that's pretty much what history is- regurgitating facts.

    " But you are clearly incapable of actual thought."

    If by actual thought you mean deliberately abstracting away historical context, making idiotic comparisons, making claims which are easily disproved, and generally resorting to special pleading, then I guess I'm guilty of that.

    You're just mad because you came here with the typical sack full of old anti-Communist arguments about lines and komunalkas and they got smacked down.

  • Also when you ask what the history of capitalism proves about Soviet Russia it is this- Capitalism was far brutal than attempts at building socialism and for most of the world's people it still is. I am not defending Soviet Russia, I am defending the right of the working people to make a revolution and not be judged by a bunch of butchers and their apologists.
    No Communist propaganda could ever match the abject brutality and enthusiasm for genocide and enslavement which was espoused by many of liberalism's early intellectuals.

  • When the Little Golden Book of G&T comes out, some of these comments should be included.

    Also, not to sidetrack, but I would love to see a post with recommended reading. If we all lived in the same town and had each other over for dinner, I could eyeball your bookshelves, but until then….

    I leave you with a line from "One, Two, Three", a sixties comedy about a Coca-Cola heiress in Berlin who falls in love with a German communist. He wants her to meet him at the train station so they can elope to the Soviet Union, but first he has to go home and pack: "It won't take long. Just my spare shirt, my chess set, and two thousand books."

  • Also worth noting that many of the modern gadgets which young Russians use today are of course, made in China. And who was it who industrialized China again?

  • I was in Germany, as a Army brat — practicing nuclear bomb drills — when the Wall went up. In 1989, I sat, rapt, in front of my television set watching people dance atop the wall and like your elders, I wept.

    I served in Berlin and a linguist and analyst at Field Station Berlin as an adult, and looked across that Wall to the more or less unmitigated destruction of World War II. I've not been able to go back and see what it looks like without it…

    For me, if there is some enduring truth, it is that ANY system can suck. Because any humans can suck…in greed, corruption, fears-flogged to irrational responses.

  • @GunstarGreen: I pay no interest, and banks pay ME to take their credit cards, because my credit score is ~ 800 out of 850. Why? Because I charge nearly everything I buy, then pay the balance in full when I get paid. And I live well beneath my (admittedly generous) means.

  • @Arslan, are you talking about the Former Soviet Union or the USA when you write: "Nursery schools can be expensive and have long waiting lists, which often restricts people to living with their parents or forces them to put off having children(or their career in the case of some women). This greatly restricts peoples lives and their freedom of movement, but it's not "totalitarianism" because it's all in the name of private profit" ? Tell me, in the FSU, are women who put off having children shamed by society for being "Selfish!!! Eleventy!!!111!!!", and women who have children and chose work to pay for their educate them called "Selfish!!! Eleventy!!!111!!!"

  • @Anonymouse

    Yes, they are actually. Things are very "traditional" around here so the second you get married people are constantly asking you when you're going to have kids, why don't you have kids, etc? I'm married so I get this all the time.

    In fact Mizulina, one of the Duma members responsible for promoting this recent "anti-Gay" propaganda law is pushing all kinds of legislation to promote "healthy families," including recently, anti-abortion legislation. She claims she's trying to stop Russia's demographic decline, but of course this will be done by restricting people and forcing them to have kids as opposed to improving the standards of living which would make life more conducive to raising children.

    I should also point out that there is a lot of teen pregnancy because the Orthodox church has steadfastly blocked any attempt to bring comprehensive sex education to schools.

  • Hugo nailed it. The Soviet economy peaked around 1960-61 and while it still showed some improvements I think it was pretty clear to the powers that be that by the late 70's the system was not the threat it was back in 1917 or 1945. Then it became time to take back all those concessions which the working class had forced out of their societies.

    I for one find it odd that people seem to think that another socialist revolution would be exactly like the second(since the Paris Commune was first). First they would do well to remember Heraclitus: "'You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you. " Second, this idea presupposes that we cannot learn from the mistakes of the past, something which pro-capitalist pundits constantly reassure us they can do. If I truly thought the USSR was so superior I would be investing my time and money into the development of time travel.

  • Oh ye of little faith. There's always been a third way, one critical of both the soviet and capitalist systems! And conveniently crushed by both.

    But it probably needs to call itself something different cause no one takes anarchists seriously.

  • There are of course a ton of formulations of Socialism that differ remarkably from Soviet Communism, just as there is not one "Capitalist" system that has existed in Europe and the Americas since the 1700s, but instead an variety of systems in different times and places leading up to our present day circumstances.

    I would not want to repeat the centrally controlled, economically and socially stagnant experience of the Soviet Union. Luckily, we as a species are capable of learning from the past and thus changing the future. Our current economic system kills millions or tens of millions of people per year; we have a responsibility to do better.

    As automation and productivity advance I suspect the very notion of a "job" is going to become obsolete, as the "Makers" will no longer require millions toiling beneath them to generate the wealth they steal – if we are still living under Capitalism when this happens, I suspect the human beings who used to hold those jobs will become obsolete as well.

  • "Oh ye of little faith. There's always been a third way, one critical of both the soviet and capitalist systems! And conveniently crushed by both."

    Yes, that "third way" is called fascism, and even to this day many fascists prefer to call themselves "third positionists."

  • Nordic/Teutonic/Gallic social democracy still exists as an alternative to the American system, Ed. It's currently waning, but it can and should still be defended.

  • It's not just waning. It's being actively dismantled in many cases. The welfare state was largely a product of concessions won in struggle, plus a healthy worldwide socialist movement as the "stick." Any welfare state is going to inevitably run into serious problems because of the contradictions between the needs of the workers and the businessmen. Here's one video which very eloquently explains the limitations of social democracy and the welfare state. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R5R-9X_BtP4

  • Well, thank you for THAT depressing little missive. I am not quite sure it's as bad as you say it is, but I know what you are saying. I think that this realization of "is this all there is" has been around since humans stopped running into caves to hide from things with claws and teeth. (Dinosaurs if you belong to flying spaghetti monster crowd).

    The fact that we can even sit and "think" long enough to feel miserable about our lot is a testament to the fact that we have "progressed" as a species. Before we were worried about food and shelter and living through the next day. Now, a good many humans rarely think of that in real terms. This malaise is a particularly curious "worry" or mental state to the truly poor and destitute who are still in the "am I going to be alive tomorrow" crowd.

    It's why men, and women, VOLUNTEER to go back into combat. It's why we have X-Games and people willing to literally place their lives at risk doing things (back flips on motorcycles) that have no intrinsic value or add anything meaningful to the human condition – other than letting us watch and fantasize about having the guts to go out in a blaze of glory, artificial or not. It's why the happiest people I know have little money or possessions, but have fulfilled lives and great stories to go with them because they work as volunteers or have fought in in fifth-world shit-holes where one learns to truly appreciate "things" – physical or otherwise.

    It's "Fight Club" and Tyler Durden: "Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off."

  • When I was in college, back in the early 1990s, my Russian history professor had what I still think is the definitive description of the post-Soviet Eastern European experience:

    "They thought they were going to get Denmark. Instead, they got… Africa."

  • There is a joke going around now based on the fact that contemporary Russia has many statistics which are more or less close to those of Nigeria. Hence Russia is now "Nigeria with Snow." Of course Russia at least has some potential, but many other former Soviet republics are pretty much fucked if the capitalist system continues.

  • @Xynzee: I take your point, but I didn't (and wouldn't) say Iraq II changed nothing. But then, Iraq II wasn't really about 9/11, was it?

    9/11 (like the demise of the USSR) just gave the same old plutocrats and war-mongerers some new excuses ("new frames wont save bad paintings").

    @Arslan: Hugo may have nailed it (he did), but you did a lovely job of the finish. You obviously invested a fair bit of time and effort in this thread, and I, for one, learned a lot. Thanks.

  • "When I was in college, back in the early 1990s, my Russian history professor had what I still think is the definitive description of the post-Soviet Eastern European experience:

    "They thought they were going to get Denmark. Instead, they got… Africa."

    Your professor was an idiot. Very sorry.

  • I'm sorry, I made a mistake when I pointed out that the professor mentioned in a previous comment was an idiot. I missed the part about him being a "Russian history" professor, which therefore makes the word idiot redundant.

    @eau Many thanks.

  • Note to self: "do not summon that from the pits…" ;)

    Thanks Arslan.
    Though I'm a bit confused as to your contradictory comment to EJ and your own on Nigeria.

    As for:
    "Yes, they are actually. Things are very "traditional" around here so the second you get married people are constantly asking you when you're going to have kids, why don't you have kids, etc? I'm married so I get this all the time."

    If there's a group of people who have such a command of the language that they can turn a phrase as if it were a knife it's the Poms. I worked with a guy who got so sick of the question that he said, "As a matter of fact, she's barren and I'm shooting blanks. But thank you very much for dredging up those feelings."

    Not sure how it would translate into the Russian, but it might work ;)

  • Yeah I think I read that incorrectly because the joke about Nigeria is about modern capitalist Russia, not the USSR which lifted millions of people out of poverty.

    As for responses to that annoying question, my usual go-to retort is, "Are you offering to pay for it?" This is especially because after three years of marriage, usually the question is sharper, as in "Why don't you have kids?" Or even worse, "You should have a kid." Yes, that would solve all my problems.

  • Arslan: "She claims she's trying to stop Russia's demographic decline, but of course this will be done by restricting people and forcing them to have kids as opposed to improving the standards of living which would make life more conducive to raising children. "

    Ah, yes, just as the USA is becoming, too.

  • Yeah, the 90's. It's depressing to know that the best decade we will probably ever experience is over a decade behind us in time. But then again, we might get invaded by aliens soon so that's exciting….

    Read Eugene Robinson's editorial in today's WaPo. Apparently, everything in his world is swell so should yours be.

  • Phoenician in a time of Romans says:

    @ Hugo : Now, to quote Margaret Thatcher, there is no alternative. Capitalism is the only game in town.

    WHICH capitalism would this be? Because claiming that the US is the only way is sorta falling out of favour elsewhere in the West.

  • No matter what the pretty system, the most energetic sociopaths will always find a way to "win" (crush, terrorize, enslave, destroy planet).

    The problem is humans. The problem is existence. Both of which suck, but which we're all required to consider the awesomest things ever.

    Yeah ok. Anymore I give the whole pointless farce/abattoir/insane asylum twenty more years tops. So nothing really to do but have a laff and enjoy what there is to enjoy. (Btw I heartily recommend misanthropic pessimism as a relief for depression. No kidding. Schopenhauer and antinatalist blogs can make my lifelong-depressive heart sing .. can take a nothing day and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile ..)

    And of COURSE Grumpy Cat is my Jesus.

  • Hi Ed,

    I'm the offspring of people from the Soviet bloc who speaks two Slavic languages, one natively, and who spends a lot of time in a former Soviet country, into which I've been married for 12 years. I've spent probably a total of 10 years out of my 40 total in that ex-Soviet country (I mention all this because, while I might not know everything, I'm definitely in the 1% of Westerners in terms of my knowledge of Eastern European society.)

    Anyway, no offense, but from my perspective this is not the best post you've ever written. It's extremely simplistic, in a manner that I and others usually associate with knucklehead conservatives, but that American liberals of the Omniscient Young Blogger variety are not immune from either.

    Do you know a lot about post-Eastern bloc society? Languages? Have you spent a lot of time in this part of the world? ("THis part" because I'm in Donestk, Ukraine, right now.) Are you aware of how, say, Croatia and the eastern part of Berlin differ from Ukraine's or Russia's industrial east? Are you really willing to lump together the EU country of Poland (doing not so badly — you should visit it) with Turkmenistan? The Italian/Slovenian border with the Georgian/Russian border? Are you sure that a lot of people in, say, Georgia or Western Ukraine believe that the final fall of teh Russian Empire brought them something just as bad, or maybe worse?

    Et cetera, et cetera, but I assume you get the point.

    Good blog in general, keep it up!

  • You should lurk more because I dealt with a lot of these claims.

    "The Italian/Slovenian border with the Georgian/Russian border?"

    Slovenia was probably the most developed part of socialist Yugoslavia and it was a tourist destination even for many Western Europeans, therefore you would have seen much difference then.

    " Are you sure that a lot of people in, say, Georgia or Western Ukraine believe that the final fall of teh Russian Empire brought them something just as bad, or maybe worse?"

    Western Ukraine wouldn't be part of Ukraine without the Soviet Union. It's important to remember that many of these "nationalists", including the veterans of the UPA and it's former commander Vasyl Kuk, actually lived normal lives under the USSR for several decades. The state paid for their education and gave them jobs. Then that state collapsed and they start running their mouths. Western Ukrainian nationalists are delusional, believing in such non-existent states as "Ukraina-Rus", and telling you that "Moskali"(Muscovite Russians) aren't Slavs, and so on. Squirm as they might, they cannot avoid the fact that modern, independent, industrialized Ukraine is a product of the USSR, and all the nationalists have managed to do is turn it into a brothel and a football to be kicked by Russia and the EU. And I say this as a person of Western Ukrainian descent- All Banderites and any of their fellow travelers can go fuck themselves. If the Soviet government and Banderites were equally bad(a position I'd never support), at the very least the Soviet regime left something to show for it.

    As for Georgia I think Saakashvili's improvements were basically negated by the war he stupidly started.

    It is right to point out that not all former socialist nations fared the same. As I said in previous comments, countries like Poland were cautious and for this and other reasons they did not have the same problem as Russia. However, it would be very myopic to act like these countries still don't have grave problems. We see that in Hungary, the far-right wing Jobbik movement is on the rise. Just recently in Poland, "nationalists" celebrated independence day by starting a riot and setting fires outside the Russian embassy. When I visited Zagreb in 2006, fascist Ustasi graffiti was ubiquitous. Many of these countries have large numbers of unemployed women who end up in prostitution, sometimes trafficked abroad(very true for Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, all EU countries, and Moldova). This condition has led to negative national stereotypes against these people.

    In the case of Poland, the amount of people who have left "free" Poland since the country joined the EU in 2004 is staggering. If the English have stopped complaining about Poles it is only because I've heard them recently complaining about Romanians and Bulgarians. A couple months ago I was in Vilnius and I saw that their demographic/cultural crisis is actually worse. I don't mean to pull a Thomas Friedman here, but according to the people I talked to there is little decent work outside of Vilnius and Kaunas(maybe Klaipeda too). In the old town center I saw some kind of "European Union information center" which had various posters on its glass windows. While I can't read Lithuanian, the message of the posters was clear- anti-emigration.

  • I forgot to mention one important thing about Western Ukraine. As you no doubt already know, most of Ukraine's industry is in the Eastern part of the country. This leads to the tragic irony that the people who hate the USSR the most(the Westerners) were actually hurt more by its collapse. Lviv is supposed to be on the up-and-up, but I fear that would be like judging all of Ukraine by the conditions in Kyiv.

  • Hi Arslan:

    You sound like someone like, well, me — someone who actually knows something about this part of the world and can talk intelligently about it. We seem to be coming from the same place and would probably agree about a lot.

    The original post, however, wasn't so great. It was to me a great example of American provincialism, liberal variety. American liberals don't get slammed for being provincial, but they mostly are. They just don't get slammed for it, because they say the right things about Celebrating Diversity and say a French movie back in college.

    Non-sequitur: The most vicious sign of the horor of the capitalist order in the former USSR that's likely to strike the casual visitor is the fact that you can drive on the sidewalk in these countries. At any given moment in Moscow or Kiev there are, as you know, tens of thousands of cars on the sidewalks, disproportionately black SUVs. Meanwhile, the old people are forced off the sidewalk to walk in the street. Young mothers push baby carriages in the roadway, in the filth.

    THAT sums it all up: the fuck-up-I'm-stronger-than-you ethic, the massive externalization of costs (we both pay for the sidewalk and road, but I get both and you get neither, fuck you), etc. etc.

    Anyway.

    Yeah.

  • Ed: "I'm sorry, Talisker, but you have completely missed my point. See Hugo's comment."

    Sorry Ed, but if he completely missed your point, the problem might lie less with his reading comprehension than with the presentation of your argument. Yeah, you did get across the point about how "The End of History" made liberal capitalism the only game in town, eliminating any alternative systems that people could imagine and strive for. That is certainly a fascinating topic and you did a nice job exploring some of the implications and the feelings of malaise this has induced. But I think Talisker correctly notes that you went far beyond that in your post: claiming that people who expected their lives to improve have been "disappointed" without really putting forward any evidence of that, claiming that the current systems are just as exploitative as the previous one, failing to differentiate among nearly several dozen formerly communist countries from Europe to the Pacific that have had quite diverse experiences in the post-Soviet era. All of these points are debatable, but you just sort of make them without any effort to substantiate them. Of course, it's a huge topic, maybe too much a single blog post, but I think you could have made your "End of History" point without the unfounded generalizations about contemporary life in these countries.

  • @Todd

    I assure you I am no liberal, and I never went to college.

    Definitely agree on the sidewalk thing. It was probably during my fourth year when I got fed up with vehicles driving absolutely EVERYWHERE, because you can't just relax and walk. At almost any moment a car can pull up behind you and they act like you're the asshole for walking on a sidewalk(even in a park). At least in Kyiv they close Khreshatik to car traffic on weekends(at least last time I was there). Parking on the sidewalk is what makes a 100m walk take nearly ten minutes in the winter.

    Recently there has been this movement called СТОПХАМ which has been blocking cars from driving on sidewalks and plastering large stickers on the windshields of cars which park on sidewalks. They have produced a few amusing videos of this on Youtube.

  • Well turns out I didn't read your post correctly; you weren't referring to my post at all I'm terribly sorry. Well in any case, you can rest assured that I'm no liberal.

  • OrwellianDoublespeaker says:

    @RosiesDad Says:

    "Democratic Socialism works pretty well. Just ask the people of Scandinavia.

    And that's where we need to go next…"

    Please go there. All of you social democrats. Physically get up and move. Please.

    I will never understand why, with Europe trying to make socialism work yet again but generally failing (especially as populations grow larger and more diverse), social democrats feel compelled to make more socialist the one country in the world with a Constitution that pretty much precludes communalism at the federal level.

    Capitalism doesn't work? In what country is free market capitalism actually happening??? The social democrats always muck it up so they can fund their social science experiments, trying to create equality in a universe that appears to disallow it. The warmongers muck it up so they can buy more bombs, bullets and bandages. The protectionists muck it up and ensure that everybody pays more to the benefit of a subsidized few.

    It's not capitalism that's failed in the West…it's an impossible mess of incompatible parts and programs cobbled together by moderate pragmatists who don't apparently care that national socialism doesn't actually work on a large scale.

    Modern Russia is, from what I can tell, more akin to a "tooth and claw" jungle or the Wild West, in which you create your own version of the law, than a true free market capitalist model founded on the rule of law.

    I do so wish America could be given another chance…restart the great experiment as enumerated in the Constitution. Unfortunately, the majority seem to favor the rule of man to the rule of law even though history shows that path leads to evil, nasty ends.

  • "Modern Russia is, from what I can tell, more akin to a "tooth and claw" jungle or the Wild West, in which you create your own version of the law, than a true free market capitalist model founded on the rule of law."

    1990's Russia was libertarian paradise. According to the theory, the market should have made sure things were properly allocated and guided actors into making choices which were best for society.

    "I do so wish America could be given another chance…restart the great experiment as enumerated in the Constitution."

    So I take it you're saying that 18th century America is "true capitalism", right?

  • OrwellianDoublespeaker says:

    I'm not sure what you mean by "libertarian paradise," Arslan. Do you mean the mostly anarchist version that our host Ed has written about? Or perhaps the narcissist version that many communalists fret about, in which everybody wants unlimited personal freedom even if it trounces on the freedoms of others? In any case, if it wasn't based (in actual practice) on the rule of law guaranteeing personal liberty for all, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't in Russia, then I doubt I'd agree it was a libertarian paradise.

    I also have doubts that your concept of "properly allocated" or "best for society" align with mine. I remember a quote from Jefferson, in which he observed that some think economic success is too closely tied to luck or circumstance. His reply was something along the lines of 'I find that the harder I work, the luckier I am.' Were all Russians demonstrating a Jeffersonian work ethic, or were a whole lot of them perhaps still behaving as serfs who are adequately happy with whatever scraps get tossed their way?

    I'm also not sure I understand what you mean by "true capitalism." My statement about restarting the great experiment had more to do with America sticking to the original playbook, with a small federal gov't doing very specific tasks and leaving everything else to the states and individuals. Since tariffs are an enumerated power, even under our Constitution a true free market is unlikely. But I believe it would be much closer to one if the US hadn't flipped to the strong, centralized federated republic model in which high taxes and tariffs are required to pay for all of the "gov't services" and subsidies to both the upper and lower end of the economic spectrum.

  • "His reply was something along the lines of 'I find that the harder I work, the luckier I am.' "

    Did he say "the harder I work" or "the harder my slaves work?"

    "Were all Russians demonstrating a Jeffersonian work ethic,"

    No, Russians didn't own plantations with slaves in the 1990s.

    " or were a whole lot of them perhaps still behaving as serfs who are adequately happy with whatever scraps get tossed their way?"

    Ah the infantile just world fallacy. Yes, if you're not successful it must be YOUR fault! I'm just going to close my eyes and pretend that all those social conditions and influences don't exist! LIBERALISM: Inconvenient facts getting in the way of your ridiculous ideology? Just pretend they don't exist!

    Now as for your talk about the original Constitution and small federal government, you may want to check your history. The Founding Fathers began increasing the power of the federal government almost immediately, Shay's rebellion being a major motivation for that. Up until the labor movement in the 20th century began to force politicians to listen to them, most politicians and ruling class members were more than happy to increase the power of "big government" because it benefited them. Even the "states rights" crowd in the South had no problem with a powerful federal government when they controlled the executive branch.

    As for tariffs and protectionism, I suggest you look at the historical data on US trade policy found in Ha Joon Chang's Bad Samaritans. You will see that America did not become rich off of "free trade" and was quite protectionist for much of its existence. This is no isolated case either. Protectionism, tariffs, subsidies, handouts, and in some places state-owned enterprises are found in the history of nearly all the major economic players in the world today.

  • OrwellianDoublespeaker says:

    Ah, the infantile modern social equality view: judge yesterday by the standards of today.

    I was unaware that Jefferson treated his slaves poorly by the standards of his time, and I'm not sure what you mean by "inconvenient facts." It seems that the facts a person chooses to consider (and probably more importantly, chooses to ignore) greatly affects how sensible his or her conclusions are from an objective perspective. There have been and continue to be far too many successful people in capitalist systems who came from dirt poor, wrong-side-of-the-tracks backgrounds to dismiss hard work and a reasonable amount of intelligence as a proven means of getting ahead in a system that rewards that sort of thing. Conversely, sloth and stupidity are virtually guaranteed to produce a predictable result in a meritocracy. Since socialist systems reward sloth and stupidity and disincentivize hard work, it's not surprising that so many post-Soviet Russians failed to make the transition when their former system fell to pieces. They'd been trained to do all the wrong things. Which makes it all the more strange that so many people want more socialism.

    On your point about small gov't, I'm aware of the history. My suggestion to restart the experiment and try a bit harder to stick to the playbook wasn't just in reference to modern social democrats' efforts to remake America into a People's Republic without the courtesy of first amending the Constitution.

    You clearly either didn't read or consider very long my point about tariffs. They are a necessary (and enumerated) evil. A small federal gov't (and one that didn't engage in empire building and war mongering in far away places) would need far fewer tariffs to operate than the social democratic war machine we have today.

    Your point that, basically, everybody else is doing it is funny. I hear that a lot from social democrats.

  • "Ah, the infantile modern social equality view: judge yesterday by the standards of today."

    Ignores the facts that:

    1. Western chattel slavery in the Americas was uniquely more brutal than previous forms of slavery.

    2. There were plenty of critics and opponents of slavery from the time. Part of the reason for the revolution was that slaveholders were worried about abolitionism gaining traction in Britain. The history of what followed confirmed those fears.

    "I was unaware that Jefferson treated his slaves poorly by the standards of his time, and I'm not sure what you mean by "inconvenient facts."

    They were human beings condemned to perpetual existence as property. Nobody gives a shit about "the standards of the time" because they weren't as "standard" as you believe.

    "It seems that the facts a person chooses to consider (and probably more importantly, chooses to ignore) greatly affects how sensible his or her conclusions are from an objective perspective. There have been and continue to be far too many successful people in capitalist systems who came from dirt poor, wrong-side-of-the-tracks backgrounds to dismiss hard work and a reasonable amount of intelligence as a proven means of getting ahead in a system that rewards that sort of thing."

    Nope, not really. The reason it seems this way is because the media and other interested parties are always throwing these stories in our face. Exceptions don't disprove the rule.

    "Conversely, sloth and stupidity are virtually guaranteed to produce a predictable result in a meritocracy."

    Good thing capitalism isn't a meritocracy right?

    "Since socialist systems reward sloth and stupidity and disincentivize hard work, it's not surprising that so many post-Soviet Russians failed to make the transition when their former system fell to pieces. They'd been trained to do all the wrong things. Which makes it all the more strange that so many people want more socialism."

    In fantasy land, what you said accurately describes history. In fantasy land. Real world? Not so much.

    You realize that Karl Marx utterly destroyed this argument all the way back in 1848? To paraphrase, why is it the common man must be motivated to work with starvation and death, while the already rich won't lift a finger unless they are tempted with massive profits? I would add that it is a well known fact that the hardest working people are typically paid the least.

    On your point about small gov't, I'm aware of the history. My suggestion to restart the experiment and try a bit harder to stick to the playbook wasn't just in reference to modern social democrats' efforts to remake America into a People's Republic without the courtesy of first amending the Constitution.

    You clearly either didn't read or consider very long my point about tariffs. They are a necessary (and enumerated) evil. A small federal gov't (and one that didn't engage in empire building and war mongering in far away places) would need far fewer tariffs to operate than the social democratic war machine we have today.

    "On your point about small gov't, I'm aware of the history. "

    Clearly not.

    "My suggestion to restart the experiment and try a bit harder to stick to the playbook wasn't just in reference to modern social democrats' efforts to remake America into a People's Republic without the courtesy of first amending the Constitution."

    America does not have a "social democratic" movement. If you knew about social democrats in Europe you would see why any attempt at comparison between American democrats and social democrats became absolutely laughable after 1992, when the DNC embarked on its "fuck the working people, let's court lawyers and well-to-do professionals" policy.

    "You clearly either didn't read or consider very long my point about tariffs. They are a necessary (and enumerated) evil. A small federal gov't (and one that didn't engage in empire building and war mongering in far away places) would need far fewer tariffs to operate than the social democratic war machine we have today."

    Uh…WUT? They HAD tariffs when the country hadn't built up its industry. They could embark on the neo-liberal free trade bonanza only much later, BECAUSE they were an empire.

    Again, I think if you actually looked up the history of tariffs, free trade, etc. which Ha Joon Chang gathered(really not hard), you would see that virtually every major economic player today got to its position not through free trade and neo-liberalism but by protectionism and government intervention in the economy. That's why I say history is the cure for poor economic theory.

  • OrwellianDoublespeaker says:

    Impasse: ˈimˌpas
    noun
    1. a situation in which no progress is possible, esp. because of disagreement; a deadlock.

    There are several reasons why libertarians and socialists can never get along, not the least of which is the tendency of socialists to feel their strongly held personal beliefs are inarguable facts.

    "America does not have a "social democratic" movement."
    Oh, that one was rich…maybe the best of the lot. But there were so many…

    Be that as it may, I twice indicated that condemnation or criticism of free market capitalism (which seemed to be the point of Ed's post) is wrongheaded because free market capitalism has never been given a chance. You keep spouting off about Chang, who apparently said essentially the same thing. Thank you for making my point.

  • "Oh, that one was rich…maybe the best of the lot. But there were so many…"

    It doesn't. This means either you don't compare American Democratic policies with actual Social Democratic parties or you just have no clue what you're talking about and you throw around the word Social Democrat because you think it makes you sound smarter. The Democrats are actually to the right of many European conservative parties.

    "Be that as it may, I twice indicated that condemnation or criticism of free market capitalism (which seemed to be the point of Ed's post) is wrongheaded because free market capitalism has never been given a chance."

    Oh so your utopian system is just ever so wonderful but it's never been tried at all for some reason? It's really hilarious because if some Trot or anarchist came in here and said "BUT THAT WAS ALL STALINISM; SOCIALISM HAS NEVER REALLY BEEN TRIED!" I doubt you'd let that No True Scotsman fallacy slide.

    You appeared here implying that early America was "free market capitalism," but like all libertarians you were forced to throw it under the bus when the historical reality of the era is brought up.

    I assert that there is no such thing as a "free market", never has been, and never will be, as the definition of "free" is both subjective and socially determined. Furthermore, I assert that any system based on private property(capital) will require a state and all that goes along with it(since every capitalist society in history has had a state) to secure those private property rights. Libertarians- prove me wrong. Show me a successful society in human history which was actually capitalist(no, not Medieval Iceland, not Ireland, not pre-Colombian American natives), and which had a truly "free market" with no state or state intervention. Either that or build your stateless capitalist society.

    PS. Ebay and Bitcoin are not societies.

  • ANTI AMERIKAN DUMB! says:

    MISQUOTE IN MEANING!!!
    to reply of:

    This argument reminds me of Marcuse's One Dimensional Man. Good book! He makes the argument that capitalism eventually co-opts any antagonistic forces.

    Read Marcuse again fool!!!

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