Those who live in the West only hear one side of the story – the one about vanquishing communism, writes Jonathan Cook.
By Jonathan Cook
If we make it out of the climate emergency, we may come to view the few decades usually described simply as the Cold War that followed the Second World War as halcyon days – at least relative to what we are facing now.
The Cold War was a power struggle between two economic empires for global domination – between the United States and its vassal states, including Europe, on one side, and Russia and its vassal states lumped together into the Soviet Union, on the other. The fight was between a U.S.-led capitalism and what was styled as a Soviet-led “communism.”
That struggle led to an all-consuming arms race, the rapid accumulation of vast nuclear arsenals, the permanent threat of mutually assured destruction (MAD), military bases in every corner of the planet, and the demonization by each side of the other.
Not much has changed on any of those counts, despite the official ending of the Cold War three decades ago. The world is still on the brink of nuclear annihilation. The arms race is still at full throttle, though it is now dominated by private corporations making profits from “humanitarian interventions” based on “Shock and Awe” bombing campaigns. And the globe is still awash with military bases, though now the vast majority belong to the Americans, not the Russians.
‘End of History’
After the fall of the Soviet Union at the end of the 1980s, we moved from a bipolar world to a unipolar one – where the U.S. had no serious military rival, and where there was no longer any balance of forces, even of the MAD variety.
That was why U.S. empire intellectuals such as Francis Fukuyama could declare boldly, and with so much relief, the “end of history.” The U.S. had won, capitalism had emerged victorious, the West’s ideology had prevailed. Having defeated its rival, the U.S. empire – supposed upholder of democratic values – would now rule the globe unchallenged and benevolently. The dialectics of history had come to an end.
In a sense, Fukuyama was right. History – if it meant competing narratives, diverging myths, conflictual claims – had come to an end. And little good has resulted.
It is easy to forget that the start of the Cold War coincided with a time of intense international institution-building, flowering into the United Nations and its various agencies. Nation-states recognized, at least in theory, the universal nature of rights – the principle that all humans have the same basic rights that must be protected. And the rules governing warfare and the protection of civilians, such as the Geneva Conventions, were strengthened.
In fact, the construction of a new international order at that end of the Second World War was no coincidence. It was built to prevent a third and, in the nuclear age, potentially apocalyptic world war. The two new super-powers had little choice but to recognize that the other side’s power meant neither could have it all. They agreed to constraints, loose and malleable but strong enough to put some limits on their own destructive capabilities.
Carrot & Stick
But if these two empires were locked in an external, physical struggle with each other, they equally feared an internal, ideological battle. The danger was that the other side might make a more persuasive case for its system with the opposing empire’s citizens.
In the U.S., this threat was met with both carrot and stick.
The stick was provided by intermittent witch hunts. The most notorious, led by Senator Joe McCarthy in the 1950s, searched for and demonized those who were considered “un-American.” It was no surprise that this reign of terror, exposing “communists,” focused on the ultimate U.S. myth-making machine, Hollywood, as well as the wider media. Through purges, the creative class were effectively recruited as foot soldiers for U.S. capitalism, spreading the message both at home and abroad that it was the superior political and economic system.
But given the stakes, a carrot was needed too. And that was why corporate capitalism was tamed for a few decades by Keynesian economics. It was a way of expanding the circle of wealth just enough to make sure a middle class would stop any boat-rocking that might threaten the wealth-elite running the U.S.empire.
War of Attrition
The Cold War was a war of attrition the Soviet Union lost. It started to break apart ideologically and economically through the 1980s – initially with the emergence of a trade union-led Solidarity movement in Poland.
As the Soviet empire weakened and finally collapsed, capitalism’s internal constraints could be lifted, allowing British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and U.S. President Ronald Reagan to unleash unregulated neoliberal economics at home. That process intensified over the years, as global capitalism grew ever more confident. Unfettered, capitalism anticipated its ultimate fate in 2008, when the global financial system was brought to its knees. The same will happen again soon enough.
Nonetheless, Soviet collapse is often cited as proof of two things: not only that capitalism was a better system than the Soviet one, but that it has shown itself to be the best political and economic system human beings are capable of devising.
In truth, capitalism looks impressive only comparatively – because the Soviet system was appallingly inefficient and brutal. Its authoritarian leaders repressed political dissent. Its rigid bureaucracies stifled wider society. Its paranoid security services surveilled the entire population. And the Soviet command-style economy was inflexible, lacked innovation and regularly led to shortages.
The weaknesses and atrocities of capitalism have been much less obvious to us only because the culture in which we are so steeped has told us for so long, and so relentlessly, that capitalism is a perfect, peerless system based on our supposedly competitive, acquisitive natures.
History, remember, is written by the victor. And capitalism won. We who live in the capitalist West only hear one side of the story – the one about vanquishing communism.
We know almost nothing of our own Cold War history: how the U.S. empire cared not a whit about democracy abroad, only about extracting other people’s resources and creating dependent markets for its goods. It did so by cultivating and installing dictators around the globe, usually on the pretext that they were necessary to stop evil “communists” – often popular democratic socialists committed to redistributing wealth – from taking over.
Think of General Augusto Pinochet, who headed a brutal dictatorship in Chile through the 1970s and 1980s. The U.S. helped him launch a military coup against the democratically elected leftwing leader, Salvador Allende, in 1973. He created a society of fear, executing and torturing tens of thousands of political opponents, so he could introduce a “Shock Doctrine” free-market system developed by U.S. economists that plunged the country’s economy into free-fall. Wealth in Chile, as elsewhere, was siphoned off to a U.S. elite and its local allies.
This catastrophic social and economic meddling was replicated across Latin America and far beyond. In the post-war years, Washington was not just responsible for the terrible suffering its war machine inflicted directly to stop the “Communists” in Latin America and south-east Asia. It was equally responsible for the enormous number of casualties inflicted by its clients, whether in Latin America, Africa, Iran or Israel.
Perhaps the U.S. empire’s greatest innovation was outsourcing its atrocities to private corporations – the emergence of a military-industrial complex Dwight D Eisenhower, the former U.S. army general, warned about in his farewell address of 1961, as he stood down as president.
The global corporations at the heart of the U.S. empire – the arms industries, oil companies and tech firms – won the war of attrition not because capitalism was better, fairer, more democratic or more humane. The corporations won because they were more creative, more efficient, less risk-averse, more psychopathic in their hunger for wealth and power than Soviet bureaucracies.
All those qualities are now unimpeded by the constraints once imposed by a bipolar world, one shared between two super-powers. Global corporations now have absolutely unfettered power to drain the planet of every last resource to fuel a profit-driven, consumption-obsessed system of capitalism.
The truth of that statement was mostly unspeakable 16 years ago when one was ridiculed as a tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist for pointing out that the U.S. had invented two pretexts – Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction and its equally imaginary ties to al-Qaeda – to grab control of that country’s oil.
Now Donald Trump, the foolish, brash president of the United States, doesn’t even bother to conceal the fact that his troops are in Syria to control its oilfields.
The unipolar world that resulted from the fall of the Soviet Union has not only removed the last constraints on the U.S. empire’s war-making abilities, the external battle. It has also had terrible repercussions for the internal, ideological battlefront.
Control of the media has grown ever more concentrated. In the U.S. the flow of information is controlled by a handful of global corporations, often with connections to the very same arms, oil and tech industries so keen to ensure the political climate allows them to continue pillaging the planet unhindered.
For some time I have been documenting examples of the corporate media’s falsehoods in these columns, as you can read here.
But U.S. elites have come to dominate too the post-war international institutions that were created to hold the super-powers to account, to serve as watchdogs on global power.
Now isolated and largely dependent on funding, and their legitimacy, from the U.S. and its European allies, international monitoring agencies have become pale shadows of their former selves, leaving no one to challenge official narratives.
The combined effect of the capture of international institutions and the concentration of media ownership has been to ensure we live in the ultimate echo chamber. Our media uncritically report self-serving narratives from western officials that are then backed up by international agencies that have simply become loudhailers for the US empire’s goals.
A Coup Becomes ‘Resignation’
Anyone who doubts that assessment needs only to examine the reporting of the military coup in Bolivia, which overthrew the democratically elected leader Evo Morales. Corporate media universally described Morales’ ousting and escape to Mexico in terms of him “resigning.” The media were able to use this preposterous framing by citing claims by the highly compromised, U.S.-funded Organisation of American States (OAS) that Morales’ rule was illegitimate.
The Bolivian opposition, @OAS_official, US government and mainstream media manufactured a phony narrative of election fraud, setting the stage for the fascist coup against @evoespueblo. I explain how it happened: pic.twitter.com/896eBBRgXG
— Dan Cohen (@dancohen3000) November 13, 2019
Similarly, independent investigative journalist Gareth Porter has shown convincingly how the International Atomic Energy Agency, the body monitoring states’ nuclear activities, has come under the U.S. imperial thumb.
Its inspectors produced gravely misleading information to help the U.S. make a bogus case justifying Israel’s bombing in 2007 of what was claimed to be a secret nuclear reactor built in Syria.
The deceptions, it later emerged, included the IAEA violating its own protocols by concealing the results of the samples taken from the site that showed there was no radioactive contamination. Instead the IAEA highlighted one anomalous finding in a changing-room that was almost certainly caused by cross-contamination from an inspector.
Another stark illustration of how international agencies have been captured is the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). It has played a central role in bolstering an unproven U.S. narrative, echoed by the Western corporate media, that Syrian leader Bashar Assad has been responsible for a spate of chemical weapons attacks on his own people.
That narrative has been vital to Western efforts at justifying regime change in a key Middle Eastern state resistant to U.S.-Israeli-Saudi hegemony in the region. The narrative has also been useful in “humanizing” the head-chopping extremists of Islamic State and al-Qaeda – which were in control of the areas where these alleged attacks took place – making it easier for the West to support them in a proxy war to oust Assad, a battle that has created untold misery for Syrians.
But the OPCW is no longer the independent, respected expert body it once was. Long ago it fell under effective U.S. control – back in 2003, when its first director-general, Jose Bustani, was forced out by Washington in the run-up to the attack on Iraq. That was when the U.S. needed to manufacture a false pretext for invasion by suggesting that Baghdad had weapons of mass destruction. U.S. official John Bolton even threatened Bustani’s children so desperate was George W. Bush’s administration to cow the agency.
In Syria, the post-Bustani OPCW has been the lynchpin of the U.S. narrative spin against Assad. Basic investigative protocols have been discarded by the OPCW, such as the requirement of a “chain of custody” to ensure any samples handed to it can be properly attributed. Instead the OPCW has implicated the Syrian government in the alleged chemical attacks based on samples collected by Islamist extremists desperate to justify more western meddling against Assad to bolster their own rule in Syria.
The first real test of the chemical weapons narrative came last year in Douma, where the Islamists argued that they had again been attacked. That claim led to the U.S., Britain and France launching missile strikes on Syrian positions in violation of international law.
Days later the Islamists lost control of the city to Assad’s forces and for the first time OPCW inspectors were able to visit the scene of an alleged attack themselves and collect their own samples.
Douma Findings Distorted
The official report into Douma, published earlier this year, appeared to confirm the U.S. narrative. It hinted strongly that the Syrian air force had dropped two bombs located by the OPCW and that those sites had tested positive for the chemical chlorine.
But thanks to two separate whistleblowers from the OPCW, one of whom was an investigator in Douma, we now know that the official report was not the one submitted by the investigators and did not reflect the evidence they unearthed or their scientific analyses of the evidence. It was rewritten by the OPCW officials in the Hague to suit Washington’s agenda.
The official report was, in fact, a complete distortion of the evidence. Investigators found that levels of chlorine at the supposed bomb sites were no higher than background levels, and less than found in drinking water – nowhere near enough to have killed Douma’s victims shown in photos produced by the Islamist groups.
The investigators’ findings suggested an entirely different narrative: that the Islamists in Doumahad placed the bombs at the two sites to make it look like a chemical attack had taken place and thereby provide a pretext for even deeper western interference.
It was not difficult to understand why officials in the OPCW’s head office had decided to conceal their expert inspectors’ findings and submit to US intimidation.
The real findings would have:
- undermined the official narrative unquestioningly attributing the earlier chemical weapons attacks to the Syrian government, in turn making a mockery of Western claims to humanitarian concern in aiding and funding years of a devastating proxy war in Syria;
- revealed the politicization of the OPCW, and the corporate media’s supine treatment of the Islamists’ claims;
- intimated at the collusion between Western governments and Islamist groups that have been slaughtering non-Sunni populations in the Middle East and launching terror attacks in the west;
- highlighted that the U.S.-British-French military attack on Syria in response – a violation of Syria’s sovereignty – was not simply a war crime but the “supreme war crime;”
- and bolstered the case for the Syrian government to be allowed to regain control of its territory.
Down the Memory Hole
The leaks from the OPCW whistleblowers paint a very troubling picture, where our most trusted international institutions can no longer be relied on to seek out the truth. They are there to serve the world’s sole super-power as it seeks to manipulate us in ways that accrete ever more power to it.
Syria narrative managers have been claiming that even if Assad wasn't responsible for Douma, it doesn't matter because he's still bad. But of COURSE it matters, because the mounting evidence that the OPCW was manipulated toward US agendas has immense, far-reaching implications. https://t.co/ggqVIiPl9h
— Caitlin Johnstone ? (@caitoz) November 16, 2019
It is quite extraordinary that the mounting evidence that OPCW officials conspired in falsifying evidence to help the U.S. empire overthrow another government is not considered news, let alone front-page news. There has been a complete media blackout on these revelations.
In an unguarded moment back in May when she heard about the first whistleblower, the BBC’s much-admired chief international correspondent Lyse Doucet responded to a Twitter follower that it was “an important story” and that she would “make sure programmes know about it.”
thanks for your message . I am in Geneva today, in Sarajevo and Riga last week, and heading to Gulf next week. It's an important story. Will make sure programmes know about it. As you know,UK outlets focused on May& Brexit last few days.
— lyse doucet (@bbclysedoucet) May 24, 2019
Six months and another whistleblower later, neither Doucet nor the BBC have uttered so much as a squeak about the discrediting of the OPCW report. This “important story” has been collectively plunged down the memory hole by the corporate media.
In this confected unipolar reality, we the public have been left compass-less, exposed to fake news not only from wayward social media sites or self-interested governments but from the large media “watchdogs” and the very global institutions supposedly set up to act as dispassionate arbiters of truth and justice. We have been returned to a world where might alone makes right.
Things are bad enough already, but all the evidence suggests they are going to get a lot worse. Capitalism’s problems go beyond its inherent need for violence and war to acquire yet more territory and open up new markets. Its economic logic is premised on endless growth, based on unremitting resource extraction from a finite planet.
That causes two major problems.
One is that, as the West runs out of resources – most obviously oil – to fuel its endless consumption, resource extraction will become ever more difficult and less profitable. Markets are shrinking and the ramifications can now be felt at home too. Youngsters in the West have no hope of being as successful or wealthy as their parents, or even grandparents.
In a world of diminishing resources and no serious ideological or economic rival, Keynesian economics – the basis on which Western elites won over their publics by enlarging the middle class – has been discarded as an unnecessary indulgence. We are in an era of permanent austerity for the many to subsidise the further enrichment of the already fabulously wealthy few.
But second, and much worse, capitalism is being exposed as a suicidal ideology. In its compulsion to monetise everything, it is polluting the oceans with plastic and choking the air with particulates. It is rapidly extinguishing insect life, the main barometer of the planet’s health. It is destroying habitats necessary for larger animals and for biodiversity. And it is creating a climate that humans will soon not be able to survive.
Capitalism isn’t unique in degrading the environment. Soviet economies were quite capable of it too. But as with everything else it touches, capitalism has proved to be uniquely efficient at destroying the planet.
It is no longer just poor people out of sight in far-off lands who are being made victims of capitalism, though for the time being they are still the worst hit.
They are fleeing the lands we helped to degrade with our weapons, and the crop failures that resulted from the climate change our industries fueled, and the poverty we increased through our resource grabs and addiction to consumption. But in our continuing arrogance we block their escape with tougher immigration policies and “hostile environment” strategies. We trivialize the plight of those we have displaced through our globe-spanning system of greed as “economic migrants.”
It is gradually becoming clearer – with the environmental emergency – that we are all ultimately in the same boat. It is only the supremely efficient propaganda machine created by the capitalist elite that still persuades too many of us that there is no way to get off the boat. Or that if we try, we will drown.
But the stark reality is that we are in a sinking boat – the sinking boat of capitalism. The hole is growing and water rushing in faster by the day. Inaction means certain death. It is time to be brave, open our eyes and search for dry land.
Jonathan Cook is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth.
This article is from his blog Jonathan Cook.net.
The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.
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RE Stephen M
December 5, 2019 at 16:24
One of the supports of the continuation in modulated form of the opponent’s “regime” of social relations is the notion that destinations including their form need to be known in advance before engaging in the journey.
This seeks to deny lateral process including through reflex practices of seeking to bridge doubt by belief to attain “comfort” predicated on reflex practices contingent on the fear of doubt/uncertainty, as do the notions of “system/regime/paradigm/framework/frame/answers”.
In any lateral system including life omniscience is never possible giving rise to practices of “cognitive dissonance” and attempts at their temporary amelioration.
Consequently if the purpose is to transcend these practices any data-streams, including those that you reference -thenextsystem.org – , should be viewed as catalysts to the formulation/implementation/evaluation/modification of hypotheses rather than as “answers”.
1. “Those who live in the West only hear one side of the story”
2. “The Cold War was a power struggle between two economic empires for global domination ”
Your assertion 2 “The cold war…” is likely a function of your assertion 1, and assertion 2 re “global domination” is likely framed by myths based on projections of the “West” from 1917 onwards in illustration of thinking that their opponents were/are as stupid as they were/are.
From 1922 onwards the strategic purpose of the Soviet Union was to defend the Soviet Union not global domination, whereas the purpose of the “West” has always been global domination.
One tactic of the “United States of America” in furtherance of this in 1922 in the Soviet Union was through “famine relief” , giving rise to Mr. Suslov’s observation that the “United States of America” had been at war with the Soviet Union from at least 1922.
Although containing levels of strategic naivete the perceived purpose of the Molotov Ribbentrop pact of 1939 by the Soviet Union was defence of the Soviet Union.
The surrender of “axis” forces at Stalingrad took place in February 1943 and a conference of the “Imperial General Staff” was convened in London in March 1943 to discuss the consequences of these developments – no representative of the Soviet Union being present, although the website of photographs purporting to represent this conference of March 1943 contains images of the Moscow conference of October 1943 to suggest the contrary.
In any lateral system the genesis of causation is difficult to determine.
However some are of the view that the meeting of the Imperial General Staff in March 1943 was a nodal point in the enhancement of the “West’s” tactics which were/are represented in the “West” as the “Cold War”.
A subsequent tactic of the “West” in 1970 was to propose and secure the agreement of the Soviet Union to detente of the bases of spheres of influence.
Although containing levels of strategic naivete, in the view of some at the time to levels even exceeding that of the Molotov Ribbentrop pact of 1939, the perceived purpose of the agreement on detente based on spheres of influence by the Soviet Union was defence of the Soviet Union.
Amongst the consequences of this naivete, enhanced by the naivete of the Soviet Union choosing to invade Afghanistan in 1979, even emulating the opponents tactics of “decapitation strikes”, was facilitating various nodal points in the transcendence of the Soviet Union by the Russian Federation.
Great discussion folks!
I am of the opinion that no matter what ‘ism’ is applied to a society today the sociopaths will still sleeze to the top, alphas gain bureaucratic control, and the inevitable carpetbaggers filch off the side. The problem is less the structure applied to a society; more the consciousness on our planet at this time.
That said, I am for far smaller government–which does not bode well for communism, or it’s somewhat less hideous younger sister–socialism.
Capitalism is a corporate con job—–
I have been an admirer of Johnathan Cook for many years for his keen understanding of world affairs ,what makes it tick and how it has evolved or should I say devolved.But this article ,IMO , is one of his greatest in the sense that one can’t miss but to understand what has happened to us all and what lays ahead if we are to survive as a species . What we are experiencing now is that proverbial WW3 ,not militarily but it is a propaganda war that has lulled many into a hypnotic trans . A battle of good and evil if you will .I am old and will not be around for that many more years but I find some optimism ,even in the darkness of the time , in some cracks where I glean some
light .Dare I say there is light at the end of the tunnel .
The problem is not market capitalism; but its counterfeit, croney capitalism.
Croney capitalism, especially as globalization, is unaccountable and soulless. As the military-industrial complex it depends on wars; and creates them to sell product. It buys and blackmails politicians and judges. It controls the media and manipulates the public while it robs them. A return to Nationalism, local markets and local production is one remedy that Populist movements throughout the West are demanding. We will not run out of resources if the true price of goods is restored by local markets.
But isn’t that a little like claiming that communism isn’t the problem, the problem is communism as it is or was being practiced in various ruthless authoritarian dictatorships? Maybe “market capitalism” inevitably leads to to “crony capitalism” in the same way that communism inevitably leads to ruthless authoritarian dictatorships.
“The leaks from the OPCW whistleblowers paint a very troubling picture, where our most trusted international institutions can no longer be relied on to seek out the truth.”
Nothing new here: if you read “elite” for “international”, the statement holds for a plethora of propagandistic activities, at least since the late 19th century. What IS new is that people at large are developing a healthy distrust toward elite institutions, which, whether by malicious intent or incompetence (don’t care which), are promoting ill-founded policies that are demonstrably destructive and irrational.
Advocates for capitalism, socialism or communism always promote the benefits of their systems, while studiously ignoring human corruptibility. The latter feature accounts for why these “systems” ineveitably go off the rails. The weakness of capitalism in particular is that instead of engaging in productive profit-drive activity, there are plenty of opportunities to game the system, not just by outright fraud, but by more subtle activities activities, replacing actual quality by marketing perceptions, creating questionable middleman roles which afford the opportunity for market manipulation, or bribery and lobbying.
Criticisms of corrupt practices like these usually, as here, come from the left, but promoters of capitalism generally maintain an embarrassed silence. Nevertheless, lamenting that a system based on greed should somehow eschew these practices on moral grounds, as this article suggests, is naive. This sort of behavior not a bug: it’s an expected feature.
Capitalism itself is not the problem. It is “unregulated capitalism” that is.
True capitalism was actually designed around small companies all competing against each other. What we have today is not real capitalism but an abberation of it that is fostered as capitalism.
The actual problem is unfettered wealth accumulation, which attracts psychopaths in the business environments and corrupt sociopathic politicians in the political ones.
However, none of this can be stopped because Humanity in general is a suicidal, self-destructive species and has been trying to do itself in for thousands of years.
Maybe this time it will get it right…
This article leaves out the very large elephant in the room – the international banking system and its role in making & breaking economies, and by extension, governments and nations. “Give me control of a nation’s money and I care not who makes the laws” – it doesn’t matter whether this quote is accurate, or correctly attributed. It appears to be the basic principle guiding the world today.
Bruno De Preter , No economic system to date is either free or innocent. Let’s not forget that capitalism came out of slavery and was invented by feudalists who got tired of having to live up to their responsibilities back to their servants.
What you are missing here is that capitalism is so easily corruptible and obsolete that it’s time for a new system. All of the ism’s so far have been exploitative and therefore it’s time to quite buying into the BS line that there is no alternative to capitalism. That’s just propaganda spewed by the people on top and their useful idiots who are in charge of keeping them on top.
These are the same idiots that try to tell you there are only two choices, capitalism or communism. Capitalism is absolutely insufficient going forward due to AI and automation.
The fact capitalism requires constant growth to work only proves we will end up burning through our natural resources and destroying our environment producing useless beads and trinkets for the sake of our own egos.
It’s time to set the worker free and design a system that doesn’t reward destructive immoral behavior more than it does constructive moral behavior.
The problem with capitalism is the “free market” makes everything a commodity including virtue even reality on a short term basis.
We made a free market so free it bought policy and politicians. This proves is only a matter of time before fixing capitalism cycles back around due to it’s inherent flaw of concentrating wealth into the most sociopathic and least moral among us.
Thank you Mr Cook, on point as always. It’s always instructive to compare the body count in the US’s imperial ‘backyard’ in Latin America with the Soviet Union’s ’empire’ of buffer states in Eastern Europe post WWII. While the Soviets maintained tight control over the politics of these states (many of whom had participated in the Nazi invasion), resources and capital actually flowed from the Soviet Union into Eastern Europe despite the devastation wrought by the war. In Latin America, the US took advantage of the weakness of Britain and the other European powers to fully realise the Monroe Doctrine, taking complete control over the resources of the continent and reponding with brutal violence (‘dirty wars’, Operation Condor) to any attempts to use these resources for the uplift of the peoples of Latin America.
For all its faults, the Soviet system was one in which economics was subordinated to politics, allowing the Soviet bureaucracy to directly allocate capital in order to industrialise their underdeveloped territory, resist Nazism and reconstruct a devastated continent.
This inspired people in the West to demand similar feats, such as the New Deal and the wartime mobilisation, while the hard-line faction of the ruling class attempted to reassert the primacy of the economic by supplying Nazi Germany with essential war materials and attempting to organize a coup against Roosevelt in the US case, and a separate peace with Hitler in the case of Britain.
As long as the Soviet Union existed, the possibility of subordinating the economic to the political remained on the agenda in the West. After nearly 40 years of TINA, it is imperative to return to the primacy of politics if we are to respond to the challenge of climate change, while at the same time providing a vision of development for the billions of working people in the developing world who should be able to aspire to something better than emigration to the West in order to deliver some rich Liberal’s UberEats.
Excellent article, Jonathan. You’re one of my favorite authors here, or anyplace else.
The Soviet Union was a nation, and its governing elite included men from Georgia (Stalin and cohort) and from Ukraine (Khrushchev and friends).
The Soviets had vassal states, which formed the Warsaw Pact.
Russia is only the rump today, not the ruling nation that had as vassals the rest of the Soviet Union, and it is error to disregard the Warsaw Pact.
This matters in the context of climate change. Soviet decisions guided the whole bloc, and took it to the worst possible choices from the viewpoint of climate change. Those choices are now difficult to unwind, and expensive to change. They are also a problem uniform over a wide area and hundreds of millions of people.
It also matters that the EU is well placed to change the Warsaw Pact, and the former Soviet states, and even to open to Russia, but that those are different problems and choices now. It means that the EU has the potential to change not just its original NATO, but the other side too, that was worse.
It leaves the US to clean up its own mess, rather than to look at the motes in the eyes of everyone else. The US is lagging far behind the EU, and even some of the Warsaw Pact, and seems determined to talk about everyone else except itself and its own business.
And yes, China is dirty, but they are doing more to clean up than is the US. India is dirty, but they are very far behind in all ways, and alone don’t guide the world to climate change or not.
it’s highly simplistic to say that the Soviet economy lacked innovation.
The Soviets did highly innovative materials science work, and this work was available in industrial goods one could purchase, in large quantities, from the Soviet Union. And that’s just the stuff we’re allowed to know about.
The Soviets were bad at supplying later 20th century consumer goods, and a 1950s telephone, by way of example, was good enough. There was no means of making things like inexpensive washing machines, or even less expensive telephone answering machines, widely available. Same idea with jeans, popular records, equipment to play the records well, but people weren’t starving and homeless.
I lived in those years in Poland, and my bit-above-average family had a washing machine, hi-fi to listen to records, jeans were cheap etc. The quality of many things was behind, but to give an example, cheese and bread were vastly better than in USA.
I agree with most of the atrocities and excesses of our Western civilization described here. However, blaming a free economic system called capitalism is throwing the baby with the bathwater, and the entire bathroom with it. Capitalism remains unmatched as the engine of economies, it has literally taken hundreds of millions out of poverty. Let’s focus instead on why the brakes and steering are failing, especially in North America. Democracy is increasingly relative, separation of powers is actively undermined, environmental damage is no longer taxed, we have a multi speed justice system, inequality of opportunity is baked in society and considered OK. As a measure of antidemocratic decision making, lobbying and electoral fundraising, gerrymandering, voter suppression, legalized corruption are there for all to see…what about application of anti trust principles or separation of retail and investment banking? Government and democracy are failing, capitalism itself is not the problem because it has no moral or societal ambitions and we should know by now that it is there to be tamed. How about restoring democratic principles?
There are excesses in Capitalism that FDR managed to quell for a short time that led to the establishment of a strong middle class that lasted for a few decades. The power of concentrated capital to corrupt the political system was never adequately addressed, and we are suffering today as a consequence. I believe the answer is progressive socialist policies that care for the poor, give everyone a good education, guide us to a wiser use of resources, and spread the wealth more equitably without undoing the possibility for some financial enrichment as an incentive for hard work and innovation. Communism doesn’t work. Unrestrained free-market Capitalism doesn’t work. The answer lies somewhere in between.
Actually, capitalism is the problem. Maybe the “restoration” of democracy in Bolivia and Venezuela and other places escaped your attention.
“Capitalism remains unmatched as the engine of economies, it has literally taken hundreds of millions out of poverty.”
It is not clear to me what you mean by this. In historical terms the opposite-that capitalism plunged many millions into poverty and squalor- is much closer to the truth.
“Democratic principles” sound like a good idea but under crapitalism they are difficult to sustain or implement because ultimately the dollar is the first priority and often the only priority.
Under democratic socialism the world you suggest would be much more possible.
@ Skip: “There are excesses in Capitalism that FDR managed to quell for a short time that led to the establishment of a strong middle class that lasted for a few decades.”
I think not. I see the strong middle class period as more a byproduct of the fact that among the industrialized manufacturing nations, only the U.S. was left standing after WWII. As other nations recovered our near-total monopoly on manufacturing faded, so too did our middle class. As that occurred, we were ushered at blinding speed into an “information economy,” with our chief export these days being intellectual property, which requires only a much smaller middle class.
Obviously there are many moving parts to the economy, and more than one reason for the disappearance of a strong middle class. The progressive tax rate that was 90% on income over $200,000/yr during the 50’s forced the super wealthy to either pay higher wages or forfeit that money to the government. I remember milk men and bread men who delivered those goods right to your back door step who could afford their own homes without the wife working, and their kids went to the same school I did. Reagan’s war with the unions, starting with the airline traffic controllers, unleashed a wave of union busting of which I was personally a victim. WWII played a key role, but it was not the only factor.
Yes, to me socialism — true socialism — is synonymous with democracy. Its aim is to expand democracy to encompass wider spheres of society, to empower people to gain democratic control over not only their political lives but their economic lives as well. As a matter of fact, it could be argued that political democracy without economic democracy is no democracy at all.
There are a lot of ideas circulating out there by people who are looking for solutions to our present failed model. Among the more promising is the work of professor Richard D. Wolff who speaks of Worker Self Directed Enterprises (WSDEs) which doesn’t necessarily preclude private ownership but places control of corporate governance in the hands of the workers — as opposed to Boards of Directors elected by stockholders — whose tendency it is to serve the bottom line, many times at the expense of any other consideration.
Another idea, whose time has come, is public banking, one of the more prominent advocates of which is Ellen Brown, who has written several books on the subject, and which advocates, rather than an extractive model in which banking mines the economy for private gain, banking operating as a public utility.
One site I’d recommend for further research is thenextsystem.org which explores a number of different ideas all of which intended for the further democratization of society.
The tendency now in late stage capitalism — a capitalism in crisis — is for restricting democracy. For concentrating more and more power in the hands of corporations and the financial elites. If we are to save ourselves and our planet from the depredations of this concentrated, militaristic, extractive model, it’s incumbent on us to do everything in our power to reverse this trend. The specific forms may vary in detail, but the main idea is to bring about a situation where power is diffusely spread throughout society (i.e., the opposite of cocentrated power)