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Speculative History Spin-Off: the Soviet Union

Discussion in 'World History' started by amadeus, Feb 21, 2002.

  1. amadeus

    amadeus めっちゃしんどい

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    Okay, here's a fictional scenario, based on DingBat's "Speculative History" thread:

    If the Soviet Union had a different leader in 1985 rather than the moderate reformist Gorbachev, what would have been the future of the Soviet Union?
     
  2. VoodooAce

    VoodooAce Chieftain

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    The same, I think.

    He hurried things along by whetted peoples' appetite for more freedoms. Also a rapidly 'shrinking' world didn't help and would have done them in, eventually.

    But the USSR was doomed, regardless, and had been so for at least a decade before Gorby. They spent themselves right out of existence with their military budget. By time Gorby arrived on the scene, they were an already decaying carcass,

    The US currently spends what, something like 4% of our budget on the military.

    What was theirs during the 70's and 80's? I'm guessing probably like 10% or worse.
     
  3. DingBat

    DingBat Paranoid Android

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    I'd actually read that, despite his KGB roots, Andropov was thinking of something similar to glasnost. Unfortunately, he never got to try it out.

    Perhaps the writing was on the wall for quite some time.

    /bruce
     
  4. Beam

    Beam Beat 'm up Scotty! Retired Moderator

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    SU spending was even worse: around 30% if I am correct. Yet with a different economy, many things were exchanged.
     
  5. donsig

    donsig Low level intermediary

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    The Reagan years saw increased defense spending here in the US and that must have put pressure on the Soviets to spend even more (that they couldn't afford) on defense.

    To assume that a leader other than Gorby would have had no impact on this situation is wrong. Think of what could have happened had a Soviet leader with Hitler's attributes had arisen. (Of course you can leave out Adolph's hatred of communism, but you get the picture.)
     
  6. sgrig

    sgrig Comrade

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    With a different leader, USSR could've gone China's way, ie liberalising the economy, while keeping the political system quite strict. In the 1980's China's Deng Xiao Peng and Gorbachev disagreed on the best way to reform communism, Gorbachev argued that first there should be political change, then economic change, Xiao Peng argued the opposite. The result is that China is still standing and (reasonably) thriving, while USSR is non-existant and its successor states are in severe crisis for the last 10 years.

    Even with perestroika, glastnost etc, end of cold war, IMO USSR did not have to disappear as a political entity. In fact, in March 1991, a referendum was held in the Soviet Union, and overall 75% voted to keep the union. However, the coup in August 1991 messed everything up, Gorbachev lost power, and his long-standing rival Yeltsin seized power after defeating the coup. It was very convenient for him to dissolve the Soviet Union, so that Gorbachev would not have a country of which he could be a president. So in result, USSR was dissolved in December 1991 by Yeltsin, and the Ukrainian and Belorussian leaders.

    I also think that Gorbachev's main problem was that he was too honest for a politician and lacked machiavellian properties. In late 1980's, the West did not fully realised to what extent the Societ economy was rotten and so could've given far more concessions to USSR for ending the cold war. For example, it is a well-known fact that West Germany was ready to forgive USSR its debt for allowing Germany to reunite, but Gorbachev did not make use of that offer. Also, Soviet Union (and Russia afterwards) did not receive anything for withdrawing its military from Eastern Europe, while had Gorbachev been more iron-willed he could've demanded for further concessions from the West. eg dissolution of NATO, withdrawal of US troops from continental Europe and Japan, etc.

    I believe if somebody like Andropov took charge of Soviet Union in those last years of the 80's, the cold war would still end and Soviet Union would slightly liberalised (at least the economical level), but that would happen more advantageously to USSR, and thus the 10 years (and counting) of misery endured by the people in post-Soviet countries could've been avoided.


    Possibly in such a scenario changes would not happen so quickly, but at least there would not be such a shock, as what happened when these changes took place so rapidly.
     
  7. sgrig

    sgrig Comrade

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    The US spends 4% of its GDP on defense. But that's more than 16% of their budget (this year the total US Budget is roughly $2trn, the defense budget is $330bn, so that works out to 16.5%)

    I agree that USSR's economy was very militarised, the actual military budget was probably around 30%, but the total military and semi-military expenditures were far higher than even that.
     
  8. Beam

    Beam Beat 'm up Scotty! Retired Moderator

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    It could have gone many ways by the end of the eighties and the only we are sure of is the way we know it went.

    A very realistic documentary has been made about a scenario where a strong opposition started at about the time the Iron Curtain gradually lifted. Very understandable since that was a give away to everything the Soviets had worked on to establish in the preceeding decades and at that time Gorbachov was running something like a relieved regime, still based on Soviet principles.

    In this scenario Gorbachov is put aside an a new leader, aka Stalin, Breznev, comes in the lead. East-Berliners, smelling freedom and bringing down the wall, and the new regime heavily collide. An escalation occurs with MAD as a result.

    Speculative, but very realistic giving the gradual build up. I am glad that did not happen in reality, yet the Russians have way to go. The benefits of Democracy mean more then an institutional paragraph.
     
  9. VoodooAce

    VoodooAce Chieftain

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    Very interesting.

    In other words, kind of like if the coup had succeeded?

    A very good 'speculative question'.
     
  10. sgrig

    sgrig Comrade

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    Yeah I've seen that as well. It was quite scary actually. :eek:

    When I first switched on that programme I thought it is a historical documentary, but then when I saw soldiers firing on the mob in East Berlin, I thought, hang on, I don't think that ever happenned! Then I realised that it was alternate history documentary!
     
  11. Vrylakas

    Vrylakas The Verbose Lord

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    The Soviet Union's collapse was inevitable. The "how" was the question, not the "whether".

    VoodooAce wrote:

    But the USSR was doomed, regardless, and had been so for at least a decade before Gorby. They spent themselves right out of existence with their military budget. By time Gorby arrived on the scene, they were an already decaying carcass

    Right on. When Khrushchov attempted to revamp Soviet military policy with an emphasis on nuclear forces, he was removed with the strong support of the Army. Its political influence never waned since, straight through the Brezhnev era only to grow even moreso during the period of the invalids between Brezhnev and Gorbachov. Military spending wasn't only pegged to the need to keep parity with the West, it was pegged to the military's political ambitions as well as military ambitions. The military budget was indeed massive and largely unaccountable. The first crack in the military's political armor came with the defeat in Afghanistan, and the growing technical disparity with the West. Only then could Gorbachov safely begin to rein in military spending - and even then he had to deal with December 1991.

    There's a story that in 1986 (or so) János Kádár came to Moscow to beg for money to alleviate the massive Hungarian debt that had been building up over the past two decades, but Gorbachov told him essentially to go to hell. Kádár said the Hungarians would revolt if their living standard fell anymore - to which Gorbachov replied they'd better get used to it because the Soviet subsidies were being shut off completely. Not only didn't the Hungarian communists get more, they lost all they had. When the Solidarnosc trade union in Poland began to revive in 1987, staging strikes and open protests, Jaruzelski was told by Gorbachov not to expect any help whatsoever from Moscow, and in fact he wasn't sure if he could continue to keep the Soviet Army in Poland. The end was near.

    DingBat wrote:

    I'd actually read that, despite his KGB roots, Andropov was thinking of something similar to glasnost. Unfortunately, he never got to try it out.

    Yes, Andropov was a reformer - though fiscally, not politically. He realized that costs were spiralling while revenue was plummeting. It doesn't take an accountant to figure out where things were heading. The empire was broke and couldn't afford to maintain the status quo, much less the wild spending increases required by Reagan's challenge. Andropov however, though former head of the KGB, still didn't understand the extent of the morass into which the Soviet Union's economy had sunk. By 1985, the Soviet Union was a brain-dead corpse being kept alive by a thin and finite line of $$$ life support. Even if he had survived and was able to challenge the military - which indications show he wasn't - Andropov simply wasn't the man to reform the empire meaningfully. The West pinned a lot of hope on Andropov, but that was only because just about anything was better than the senile, pickled and erratic Brezhnev.

    Sgrig wrote:

    With a different leader, USSR could've gone China's way, ie liberalising the economy, while keeping the political system quite strict. In the 1980's China's Deng Xiao Peng and Gorbachev disagreed on the best way to reform communism, Gorbachev argued that first there should be political change, then economic change, Xiao Peng argued the opposite. The result is that China is still standing and (reasonably) thriving, while USSR is non-existant and its successor states are in severe crisis for the last 10 years.

    I don't think the Soviet Union can be compared to China. First of all, the Soviet empire was far more external, based on the conquest of states who each had long, distinctive histories of independence - some longer than Russia itself. China in turn rules over regions and peoples who've always existed within the traditional Chinese civilizational and often political orbit. Yes, some also had their own histories (Tibet, Hong Kong, Macao, etc.) but few ever eclipsed China's cultural or political influence. The Soviets, on the other hand, had to severely restrict the ability of Russians to travel even within their own empire because almost every part of the empire had higher living standards than Russia; it was just too much explaining for Moscow after it'd lied to its citizens for so long that they were the top of the world in all categories. There was very real rage with the dawn of Gorbachov's reforms and the internet showed Russians they lived in one of the poorest states in the world. The Chinese had the mentality that they were coming from behind, but the Russians believed they led the world.

    That difference made the Chinese far more accepting and realistic about any reforms, while the Russians came away with the idea that their weaknesses derived from the reforms. Gorbachov naively tried to explain the true nature of things but for his pains he earned the hatred of the Russian people. China, the rising Third World state, was modernizing but Russia, a 19th century-style empire artificially buffeted through tithe-style taxation and a web of lies, was imploding. Gorbachov didn't so much speed things up as keep them from getting too violent. The empire was coming apart at the seams, and there was little anyone in Moscow could do. Had Gorbachov not come to power - I recall Romanov ironically enough was his main rival - it is likely the Soviet military would have attempted to re-assert itself resulting in either economic collapse or an invasion of Western Germany. Either way, far more blood would have been spilt.

    Very insightful post Sgrig -
     
  12. Simon Darkshade

    Simon Darkshade Mysterious City of Gold

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    Very interesting ideas and thoughts here. The name of the documentary was "World War Three" (top marks for imaginative title), a German production.

    As we are discussing speculative history, it would be interesting to reflect upon the Clancy "Bear and the Dragon" scenario, where huge oil and gold deposits were discovered in Siberia. Now, let us pretend that these deposits were there in such quantities, but uncovered in 1985.
    With trillions of new income, it would be interesting to contemplate what would have occured.

    In addition, what if those voices within the Rodina;) and the Warsaw Pact who were advocating a "Chinese- style solution" to growing unrest had triumphed?

    Finally, another speculative scenario to be contemplated:

    It is the year 1986. Strange rumours are trickling into the Politburo of a remarkable situation in Siberia. According to these rumours, a local resident had uncovered a decrepit hut in the midst of the taiga, wherein amazingly Comrade Iosef Stalin dwelt, still alive after all these years.
    A delegation of hardliners set out in secret for the hut, and after several days of careful journey, they at last stand before the terrible ancient visage of Comrade Stalin.
    One perks up courage to speak: "Comrade Stalin, the Rodina needs you. We are falling apart and growing soft, abandoning the old ways. The West threatens to overwhelm us, and end your legacy. We need you to come back, and take power. We need your strength, your resolve, and your purpose. We need you, Comrade Stalin!"
    The aged face was impassive, and one hand stroked the snow white moustache. Seconds, and then minutes went by with appalling slowness.
    Finally, Stalin spoke.
    "Very well, I will do as you say. I will return and take power. But on one condition."
    "W..wwhat is that?" one Politburo member stuttered
    "No Mr. Nice Guy this time"
    :lol:
     
  13. Beam

    Beam Beat 'm up Scotty! Retired Moderator

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    Yep, a good speculative question. Some thoughts:

    What happened late eighties was a decomposition of the Soviet defense system in the west. Soviet / Russian doctrine saw / sees three main abroad dangers. The western commercial-industrial complex, the Chinese ability to raise an immense army and the islamic states in the south, but also the former British Empire. Afghanistan (and the SU islamic states) from Russian perspective has all to do with the south (another speculative question: what if the Soviets had succeeded in Afghanistan?). btw, Mongolia and North-Korea fulfill the same purpose.

    In the past 2 centuries the threat from the west has been by far the most significant and the East block countries basically had a buffer purpose to secure the existance of the SU. With that buffer falling away the security of the SU itself was at stake and therefore with a high risk on war (SU / Russian doctrine!).

    The affairs of 1991 were much more an internal affair. The preceeding 2 years had showed that there was no real danger from the outside / west with East block countries falling away and that decomposition of the SU / CIS itself for that reason would not mean an imminent risk for the remaining Russian state. Rather, if they had attempted to keep the CIS together the risk of large scale civil war would by far have outweighted the effects of decomposition. See Chechenia as an example of how well the Russians can handle civil wars.

    In Civ terms: 1989 was culture flipping, 1991 was civil disorder.

    OK those were some thoughts, have to go back to work now.

    Hope you can speculate on!
     
  14. sgrig

    sgrig Comrade

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    Well, I don't agree with all of this. For a very long time Russia was dominanat in the area which was then the Russian Empire and even later Soviet Union. It should not be forgotten that the first Russian state, Kievan Rus, was based in Kiev and extended through most of what is now Ukraine, Belarus and Western Russia. At that time, in the 10th-11th centuries, there was very little distinction between the people who lived throughout Kievan Rus - they were all 'Russian'. It was much later, that western regions of Ukraine and Belarus were occupied by Poland, and Polish influence led to the differences between Russians, Belorussians and Ukrainians. However, eastern Ukraine and Belarus voluntarily joined Russia in the 17th century to be protected from Poland's expansion. The parts which were forcefully annexed were western Ukraine, Belarus and baltic regions, in the 18th c. In the 19th century, Georgia and Armenia also voluntarily joined the Russian Empire, to get protection from Turkey and Persia. What is now Azerbaijan was ceded by Persia to Russia in 1828 after a war. In late 19th century, all of central asia was annexed, but by that time, those places were very undeveloped, and in civ3 terms 'had much lower culture rating' than Russia. After the collapse of the Russian Empire, the communists basically gathered together most of the territories which formed part of the Empire.

    Well, travel was allowed within the Soviet Union, but not outside it. It is also not fair to deny that there were any categories in which USSR was top in the world. Of course, in terms of car ownership per capita and average salary, USSR was far behind Western nations, but other things were actually at a high level. For example, the education system - it was fully free and very good - producing some of the world's best scientists who now flood Western universities. Actually Soviet restrictions on travel abroad played a very negative role - in the late 80's the Soviet Union was swamped by myths about the wonderful, carefree life in the West, so obviously people were angered that they were being denied that. However, now that Russians can travel more, many have realised that many things which people took for granted in the Soviet Union, simply do not exist in many Western countries, even though those countries are much richer. Again, a good example is free quality education and healthcare. Things like this are dispelling myths about the West. Unfortunately, in post-Soviet Russia, these things have also disappeared.

    By the way what do you mean "internet showed Russians they lived in one of the poorest states in the world"? As far as I know internet was available hardly to anyone even in the US in the 1980's!!! It is also a terrible exaggeration that Russia is one of the poorest states in world. It is (and was) one of the poorest European countries, but by far not one of the world's poorest. I will take this as a misprint! :D

    The reforms have been a disaster because too many things were being done at once. The political system was fully overhauled and the economical system was also being overhauled. It is impossible to do these things at once. To change the political system it is necessary to have a solid economical foundation. To change the economical system, it is necessary to have a stable political situation. Otherwise it is easy to descend into chaos. As I said before, it is my belief that the changes took place too quickly, without proper agreement as how to make them. Especially the very act of dissolution of the Soviet Union was extremely rushed- no agreements have been made on how the successor states will function independently, how assets will be shared etc.

    Just one example: the Soviet Navy had elite special forces detachments, similar to US SEALS; one of these brigades was stationed near Odessa (now in Ukraine). When the Soviet Union was dissolved, there has been no agreement on to which country this unit will belong. The commander of the unit was Ukrainian, most of the officers were Russian. The commander decided to swear allegiance to Ukraine, while the Russians refused, so they all were sacked and sent back to Russia, in effect completely disbanding the unit. Or the issue with the Black Sea fleet... Again, due to hurriedness, such issues weren't decided and the result was complete chaos.

    Thanks
     
  15. Beam

    Beam Beat 'm up Scotty! Retired Moderator

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    Fanatics,

    I enjoy reading all the posts here, yet also try to stick with the original topic (please do NOT read this as an off-topic message) and include some speculation on the mid eighties when some major internal SU events happenend.

    What if: The Soviets had used a different approach and had managed to get control of Afghanistan. Developments of the last 4 months show it is possible to inflict a change in government.

    What if: Tsjernenko and / or Andropov had lived longer. Both were representatives of the Breznev era and only because they died could a reformer like Gorbachov come into position.

    What if: There had not been a couple of disaster harvests. The SU had to import huge amounts of food which costed a lot of money and therefore set limitations to critical other imports.

    What if: Tsjernobyl had not happenend.

    OK, you can response like it is a show it was rotting frorm the inside out or that it was latent instability. Yet imagine the Soviets were more fortunate and Ronald Reagan had really gone pushing for SDI and forward defense we could have had big time with them.
     
  16. amadeus

    amadeus めっちゃしんどい

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    Ha! Simon, do you mind if I turn that into a Civ2 scenario? That's a pretty funny (and good) idea.
     
  17. Vrylakas

    Vrylakas The Verbose Lord

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    Sgrig wrote:

    quote:
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------
    Originally posted by Vrylakas

    I don't think the Soviet Union can be compared to China. First of all, the Soviet empire was far more external [...]
    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Well, I don't agree with all of this. For a very long time Russia was dominanat in the area which was then the Russian Empire and even later Soviet Union. It should not be forgotten that the first Russian state, Kievan Rus, was based in Kiev and extended through most of what is now Ukraine, Belarus and Western Russia. At that time, in the 10th-11th centuries, there was very little distinction between the people who lived throughout Kievan Rus - they were all 'Russian'. It was much later, that western regions of Ukraine and Belarus were occupied by Poland, and Polish influence led to the differences between Russians, Belorussians and Ukrainians. However, eastern Ukraine and Belarus voluntarily joined Russia in the 17th century to be protected from Poland's expansion. The parts which were forcefully annexed were western Ukraine, Belarus and baltic regions, in the 18th c. In the 19th century, Georgia and Armenia also voluntarily joined the Russian Empire, to get protection from Turkey and Persia. What is now Azerbaijan was ceded by Persia to Russia in 1828 after a war. In late 19th century, all of central asia was annexed, but by that time, those places were very undeveloped, and in civ3 terms 'had much lower culture rating' than Russia. After the collapse of the Russian Empire, the communists basically gathered together most of the territories which formed part of the Empire.


    First of all, I included in my definition of "Soviet Empire" all the nominally independent states involuntarily held within the Soviet orbit, like Poland, Hungary, Mongolia, etc. not just those physically within the Soviet Union's borders. The communist governments of Eastern Europe and Mongolia were imposed from without and people like Honecker, Gomulka or Zhivkov were merely imperial governors pretending to be national leaders. Even in the very lax 1970s, with detente and Brandt's Ostpolitik, no major decision could be taken in these countries without prior approval from Moscow. It was the Soviet Imperianum, and the Soviet border effectively stretched to Austria, West Germany and Italy in reality if not in name.

    Secondly, Ukraine and Belarus did not join Russia in the 17th century; they were seized. Poland-Lithuania was not expanding eastward in the 17th century; it's apex had since passed and they were only interested in retaining what they already had. Ukraine and Belarus weren't countries yet and were barely even peoples. The name "Ukraina" is a general Slavic expression used by medieval Poles and Russians to describe the vast lands that lay between them; it means "frontier". Both Ukraine and what is now Belarus were awash with many different peoples, mostly but certainly not exclusively Slavs. The Poles refered to the various Slavic groups of modern Belarus as Ruthenians (i.e., "White Ruthenians", "Black Ruthenians", "Red Ruthenians", etc. - each speaking a different Slavic dialect). The first time a Bjelorussija ("White Russia") was organized was under Lenin in 1920, but even by then the majority of Belarus' population were immigrant Russians (c. 60%).

    A rebellion in 1648 by the Cossacks (and later the Slavic peasantry) in Ukraine got fairly nasty on both sides but ended with a Polish-imposed settlement in 1658 over the Cossacks, but they'd been secretly negotiating a protectorate status with Moscow and the Russians and Swedes invaded in 1659. By 1667 Poland-Lithuania had succeeded in driving out the invaders but was so weakened in the effort that it couldn't refuse a Russian seizure of eastern Ukraine (Treaty of Andruszow/Andrusovo). The Russians threw Kijow (Kiev) into the deal and annexed the Ukraine (breaking their treaties with the Cossacks) and eventually destroyed the Cossack seches and any independent Ukrainian peasant organizations. This series of wars against first the Poles, then the Russians helped create the first Ukrainian national identity.

    Well, travel was allowed within the Soviet Union, but not outside it. It is also not fair to deny that there were any categories in which USSR was top in the world. Of course, in terms of car ownership per capita and average salary, USSR was far behind Western nations, but other things were actually at a high level. For example, the education system - it was fully free and very good - producing some of the world's best scientists who now flood Western universities. Actually Soviet restrictions on travel abroad played a very negative role - in the late 80's the Soviet Union was swamped by myths about the wonderful, carefree life in the West, so obviously people were angered that they were being denied that. However, now that Russians can travel more, many have realised that many things which people took for granted in the Soviet Union, simply do not exist in many Western countries, even though those countries are much richer. Again, a good example is free quality education and healthcare. Things like this are dispelling myths about the West. Unfortunately, in post-Soviet Russia, these things have also disappeared.

    Even within the Soviet Union travel was - and to a certain extent, still is in modern Russia - restricted. Soviet citizens required residency papers for where ever they lived, and had a sort of internal visa system that said which regions in the country the holder could travel to. Peasants, as usual in Russia, were almost nailed to the land they stood on. However, again the problem here with your understanding is my definition: I mean by the expression "Soviet Empire" the Soviet states and all its satellite states. Soviet citizens were only rarely allowed to travel to Poland or Hungary, for instance, because these "pupils of the Great Socialist Fatherland" actually had far higher living standards than Mother Russia herself. On one of my quiz threads for example I pointed out that Soviet citizens were only very rarely allowed to visit the graves of their own fallen soldiers from World War II scattered all throughout Eastern Europe. But even within the Soviet Union, there was a great disparity in living standards between the Baltic states and western Ukraine and Russia itself. As for the healthcare and education; I'll agree with you to a certain extent about the education, but with reservations. Communist citizens were taught to memorize massive amounts of information, just incredible volumes of information - but they were never taught how to process it all, or what it means. They were never taught critical analysis or how to think - skills a dictatorship doesn't want tis citizens to develop, naturally enough. This all became evident with the fall of communism when entire generations of people in Eatsern Europe suddenly were forced to learn how to function in a Western-style society when they didn't have the skills to act or think indepenedently at all. As fpor the healthcare; have you ever actually seen a Soviet-era hospital? Let me assure you that while it may look good on paper to claim that a state offers universal and free healthcare, you should look into the quality of that healthcare first. The very uneven quality of healthcare and the massive amounts of accompanying bureaucracy forced everyone to bribe doctors to make sure they wouldn't do a shoddy job on you. There was actually an informal and discreet but universally-acknowledged system of bribery depending on what you were having done, involving food, medicine, money, gas, luxury items, etc. A Spanish friend and I once had a momentary chance to see inside a Party hospital in late 1980s Hungary - Party hospitals having the best care of course - and we were both shocked; me because I was amazed how advanced and well-staffed it was, she because she thought it looked like a medieval torture chamber. Soviet healthcare was nothing to get too excited about...

    By the way what do you mean "internet showed Russians they lived in one of the poorest states in the world"? As far as I know internet was available hardly to anyone even in the US in the 1980's!!! It is also a terrible exaggeration that Russia is one of the poorest states in world. It is (and was) one of the poorest European countries, but by far not one of the world's poorest. I will take this as a misprint.

    You cut my original phrase in half and took it out of context. It was: "There was very real rage with the dawn of Gorbachov's reforms and the internet showed Russians they lived in one of the poorest states in the world." I suppose I should have put "internet age" or something to that effect, but Russians did indeed have large-scale internet access by the very late 1980s and early 1990s. I don't know when it started in the U.S. but it spread fairly quickly actually; I was using it at my university in then-communist Hungary by the late 1980s.

    As for Russia being poor; it is a typical Third World-style state with elite islands of industrial and cultural development that can often match the West but is surrounded by mass swaths of impoverished lands. If you drive just a few miles outside of Moscow, you'll leave behind modern shopping facilities and suddenly find yourself in areas with a living standard very much like the 18th century - and I'm not exaggerating. Once in 1989 or so I was on an overnight train in Romania going from Timisoara in the northwest to Bucharest, when I fell into broken conversation with my compartment mate, a travelor from then Soviet Moldavia. Large parts of Timisoara, a city of about 200 000 where'd I'd just left, did not have any plumbing and the electricity was sporadic. Some roads in the middle of the city were not paved, or were so badly damaged that they were almost unusable. I recall a building off one of the main squares had collapsed, and people had just piled the rubble into a side street. Shops were usually empty (especially food shops), and the people simply looked haggard and unhealthy. Even for me, coming from Poland and Hungary, this was a shock. Well my companion from Kishinjev (Soviet Moldavia) exclaimed to me his amazement at how modern Timisoara and Romania in general was! He declared himself to be in the West. That should give you an idea about Soviet poverty.

    The reforms have been a disaster because too many things were being done at once. The political system was fully overhauled and the economical system was also being overhauled. It is impossible to do these things at once. To change the political system it is necessary to have a solid economical foundation. To change the economical system, it is necessary to have a stable political situation. Otherwise it is easy to descend into chaos. As I said before, it is my belief that the changes took place too quickly, without proper agreement as how to make them. Especially the very act of dissolution of the Soviet Union was extremely rushed- no agreements have been made on how the successor states will function independently, how assets will be shared etc.

    You certainly can make an argument about how the reforms were carried out anywhere - it is after all a form of social engineering to transform from a dictatorship to a democratic government - but every case was different. Jeffrey Sachs' "shock therapy" worked well in Poland, while the more gradual reformist model worked well in Hungary. Both are moving along quite well. Russia's problems I think involve a lack of social experience with a de-centralized political and economic model, and a popular resistance to some of the free market's and democracy's most basicx tenets; property rights, free association, freedom of speech, individual responsibility. These are not just anathema to communist belief but to traditional Russian peasant social systems as well (where the collective ruled). As for how the Soviet Union dissolved; well, I think it was inevitable. Yes, Yeltsin and Co. essentially dissolved it by simply creating a replacement sovereignty structure but no one resisted them - no one could. The empire was dead.

    Just one example: the Soviet Navy had elite special forces detachments, similar to US SEALS; one of these brigades was stationed near Odessa (now in Ukraine). When the Soviet Union was dissolved, there has been no agreement on to which country this unit will belong. The commander of the unit was Ukrainian, most of the officers were Russian. The commander decided to swear allegiance to Ukraine, while the Russians refused, so they all were sacked and sent back to Russia, in effect completely disbanding the unit. Or the issue with the Black Sea fleet... Again, due to hurriedness, such issues weren't decided and the result was complete chaos.

    These types of things always happen when new states are born or old ones die. Very few are well planned. Look at the squabbling between the U.S. and Britain that went on for decades after the American Revolution. The Soviet Union collapsed of its own dead weight; it was bound to be messy.

    Beammeuppy wrote:

    I enjoy reading all the posts here, yet also try to stick with the original topic (please do NOT read this as an off-topic message) and include some speculation on the mid eighties when some major internal SU events happenend.

    D'oh! Ok, back to topic... Although these details Sgrig and I are arguing are important to the topic, because they establish the environment and context for any "what if...?" scenarios.
     
  18. sgrig

    sgrig Comrade

    Joined:
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    I was born and lived in the Soviet Union and as far as travel is concerned, within the Soviet Union travel was free except for towns which contained 'secret' miltary or industrial objects. True that the 'propiska' existed, limiting where people could live, but except for Moscow a local 'propiska' could be easily obtained. Also passports in USSR and modern day Russia are required for travel as proof of identity. Peasants did not have passports until 1960's but afterwards they did receive passports and could move around. As far as for hospitals, I was actually treated a few times in local hospitals and although it is not the nicest experience of my life, at least you would get some treatment even if you didn't have any money.

    Concerning 18th century lifestyle, the small villages around Moscow which are indeed made up of very basic housing (for most part) are dacha's ie, second homes so to speak, where people grow fruit and vegetable, while living in the city or its suburbs. So it is not as if people live their for the whole of their life with no facilities. As for poverty, I lived in a small town 70km from Moscow and until the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was no poverty or third-world images to talk about. However when I lvisited it two years ago, the place was virtually in ruins, because the local factory practically stopped working. Nowadays, however, the factory is up and running again, and the town being rapidly revived. Although I think I should agree that currently Russia is in some aspects down to third-world standards, but I still wouldn't call Russia a third-world country, even if only due to massive cultural, scientific and technological heritage, which still isn't completely wasted. But that I suppose that's a matter of opinion, as to what is the definition of a third-world country. But let's not get into that.

    We bored other posters enough with our debate. Such debates commonly happen when a Russian and an East European get together. :)
     
  19. Vrylakas

    Vrylakas The Verbose Lord

    Joined:
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    Messages:
    1,940
    Location:
    Bostonia
    Sgrig wrote:

    I was born and lived in the Soviet Union and as far as...

    Sgrig - I looked at your profile. You were 7 years old when the Soviet Union collapsed! How many memories of the Sovjetskij Sojuz days do you have...?

    We bored other posters enough with our debate. Such debates commonly happen when a Russian and an East European get together.

    Eta pravda, k njes'chastuyu.... ;)

    I'll wander back towards rmsharpes' original topic:

    An article in today's Wall Street Journal by Michael A. Ledeen, "From Communism to Fascism?", asks the question if China hasn't perhaps become what Germany and Italy failed to become because of the world war, a mature fascist state. He points out that modern China resembles the European fascist states in that it relies largely on market forces for its economy but is a corporate state, has a single political party firmly in control, allows limited freedoms outside of the political sphere but is ruthlessly protective of its political perogatives. Although the ruling regime uses communist rhetoric it really relies on nationalism and not socialist internationalism for its internal legitimacy, and folowing the nationalist theme it asserts its right to represent and dominate not just Chinese citizens but all Chinese throughout the world. Another trait of fascist regimes is the coupling of nationalism with militarization. Ledeen: "Chinese leaders often proclaim a peaceful intent, yet they are clearly preparing for war." Another quote: "Imagine Italy 50 years after the Fascist revolution, Mussolini dead and buried, the corporate state intact, the party still firmly in control, the nation governed by professional politicians and a corrupt elite rather than the true believers. No longer a system based on charisma, but on political repression, cynical not idealistic, and formulaic appeals to the grandeur of the 'great Italian people', endlessly summoned to emulate the greatness of its ancestors. That is China today."

    All comparisons have their limits, but the question is valid. Would China - or Russia - have evolved into a fascist state without Gorbachov? Did it already? A popular refrain of mine is that Russia was a gangster-style communist state that changed in the 1990s and became a gangster-style democracy. Is there a valid analogy here?
     
  20. Simon Darkshade

    Simon Darkshade Mysterious City of Gold

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Daisy Hill Puppy Farm
    Yes, it is rather amusing, isn't it.:) Feel free to do with what you wish, with the appropriate credits;) ("Based on a joke told by Dr. Simon Darkshade, Esq., KCBE, Hero of the Soviet Union, Order of Lenin, etc, etc.":D )

    Here is another little story about Stalin making a modern comeback:

    Vladimir Putin is worried with the state of his nation. Chechnya is still smouldering, there is anger over the Kursk sinking, and the economic situation is only gradually edging forward. He tosses and turns in bed for hours, and finally falls into an uneasy sleep.
    In the midst of his troubled slumber, he is suddenly awoken by a blast of cold wind, and the moaning of thousands of ghostly voices. He sits up in bed to see the shade of Stalin perched next to him in an easy chair.
    "Wwwwhat are you doing here, Comrade Stalin?"
    "You seemed troubled, so I came here to see if you could do with some advice."
    "That would be perfect, Comrade! How am I to turn Russia around?"
    "You must do three things: Firstly, you must reinstitute communism. Secondly, you must execute the entire government, and a couple of thousand serfs as an example. Finally, you must paint the Kremlin green."
    "Why paint the Kremlin green?"
    "Ah, I had a feeling you'd have a problem with that one."
    :D

    And, somewhat on the topic of recent exchanges, a good friend of mine lived in the USSR/Russia until 1994 on a submarine base up near Murmansk. His general comments, having lived under communism, in post-communist Russia, and now in Australia, are that there were some good points about living under communism, but there were many defects and problems to the system. He is actually in favour of totalitarian dictatorship, but that must just be the people he associates with.:cool:
     

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