Tuesday, June 22, 2010

More from "Our Man in Moscow" (and His Russian Wife)

Richard Ebeling emails:


I only noticed this comment today -- rather late, I know.

But let me say this, there were KGB tank units around the Russian Parliament, as well as regular Soviet Army tank units.

Yes, foreign political leaders rained praised on Gorbachev. Here was the "good" socialist they had been waiting for all their lives. Now, finally, socialism would develop in its finest form in the homeland of the "dream" that so many Westerners wanted to believe in for so many decades.

As my wife, who is Russian and lived her life in Moscow, expressed it. "Gorbachev gave us a longer leash from the end of which we were now allowed to 'bark' louder." She, too, was amazed when one morning not long after Gorbachev came to power she opened the "Moscow News" and found on the cover a story about the previously taboo crimes of Stalin.

But, as I said, there were limits to how far Gorbachev and those around him would allow the truth to be revealed. Lenin, as the builder of the Soviet socialist state, was off limits.

What the economic reforms soon demonstrated was that you cannot be "half-pregnant." Central planning combined with limited small private enterprise and some foreign joint ventures merely generated contradictions and even more corruption and imbalances in the Soviet economy.

The system was rapidly falling apart -- imploding -- with either an impossible attempt to return to the old system or the end to central planning. By spring and summer of 1991, the state retail stores in Moscow (the "center" and showcase of the system) were often bare.

Having given a degree of freedom to people to say and write things previously forbidden, a growing number of the national subject peoples wanted their independence.

Those in the Soviet hierarchy saw the system slipping away, their power base and privileges threatened. The hardliners actually understood the nature of what was happening far better than Gorbachev.

He really lived in a dream world in which he thought there could be some "middle way" of preserving the system. The hardliners explained in their attacks on Gorbachev that the road he was following was leading to the demise of Soviet power.

The hardliners initiated the coup attempt in August of 1991 precisely because they feared the breaking up of the Soviet Union with Gorbachev and Yeltsin and other Soviet republic leaders planning to sign a document giving more autonomy to the respective Soviet republics. And if, under Yeltsin, "Russia" was no longer the controlling corner stone of the Soviet state, then that did mean the end of the U.S.S.R.

Gorbachev's vision for a new Soviet State and what actually happened is another stark example of the unintended consequences of human action.


  1. Prof. Ebeling - any chance the US empire might break up as in Japan or Germany kicking out US troops? Given Obama's weak-kneed foreign policy do you see any similarities?

  2. Efinancial,

    Weak-kneed? You mean belligerence toward Iran? Troop surges in Afghanistan? Predator drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen? Continuation of extraordinary rendition and the attempt to imprison and even assassinate people who whistle-blow on the murder and mayhem in Iraq?

    I fail to see what is weak-kneed about BO's foreign policy.

  3. There are certainly criticisms and negative attitudes by many in both Asia (Japan and South Korea) and in Europe (the NATO countries) about the continuing American military use of bases and stationing of military personnel.

    However . . . for all the complaining, say, in Europe, America's military involvement in that part of the world continues to give European nations a "free ride" on the costs of their own defense. Why pay have your own taxpayers pay for something that you can have the U.S. taxpayer pick up part of the tab to take care of?

    Many of the recent NATO members in Eastern Europe, given their fears of Russian assertiveness, will be delighted to have America as their military ally for the foreseeable future, I think.

    The same applies in Asia. As long as the South Koreans are fearful about what the North Korean government might do on the peninsula, and as long as the Japanese have concerns about both the North Koreans and a growing and assertive Chinese military the will be happy with an American defense umbrella partly protecting them.

    Only if the United States appeared to become a particularly unreliable or "weak" ally would, say, the Japanese try to work out a "relationship" with the Chinese that would include closing most or all of the U.S. military presence in Japan.

    The world configuration of "power relationships" are changing. And the U. S. "superpower" role will face new competitors in this century.

    But unless there was a particularly destabilizing set of events, I don't expect to see the U.S. global military and political outreach "cut down to size" in the near future.

    Richard Ebeling