The Nation: From Defending Abolitionism to Defending the USSR


From a year-end donation letter for The Nation:

Dear Nation Friend:

The Nation, founded by abolitionists in 1865, is uniquely positioned to cover these times….

From the current issue:

Is the World Really Safer Without the Soviet Union? By Mikhail Gorbachev 

…Today one often hears that politics is a dirty business, incompatible with morality. No, politics becomes dirty and a zero-sum, lose-lose game only when it has no moral core. This, perhaps, is the main lesson to be learned from the past two decades….

The Soviet Union's Afterlife By Stephen F. Cohen

…Whether or not the jettisoning of Gorbachev's perestroika was a missed opportunity for Russia's "noncatastrophic transformation," instead of its recurring "modernization through catastrophe," may be for historians to decide. But it was already clear at the time, or should have been, that the way the Soviet Union ended—in fateful circumstances about which standard American accounts are largely silent or mythical—boded ill for the future….

In a post earlier this week, Matt Welch unpacked the self-serving history embedded in Gorbachev's recounting of what a peaceful, forward-looking reformer he was. For his part, Cohen is quick to cite the large majorities of Russians who "regret" the breakup of the Soviet Union without doing a similar pulse-taking of, say residents of the Baltic states or of Eastern Europe. And then there's the "mass poverty" that Cohen says followed the end of the Soviet Union. There's little question that ending the Soviet empire was a shock to its system and that most of the countries in the former USSR did poorly for years afterwards. It's also true that the ones that most fully embraced Western-style liberal democracy are doing fabulously well and even those (such as Russia) run by former Soviets are doing better than they were at empire's end. Go here for graphics on how the former Soviet nations are faring. The Russian Federation's mortality rate is way down (to 11, from 23 in 1990), life expectancy is flat, GDP way up (more than doubled since the breakup).

The impact of the end of the Soviet Union certainly deserves to be analyzed critically. But its demise shouldn't be cause for the rewriting of history (as Gorby does, for obvious reasons) or blinkered fixation on what was lost in a fantasy"noncatastrophic transformation" of a system that engineered the death of 6 million citizens between 1954 and 1987 alone (according to R.J. Rummel)—and ten times that number over its entire run. That such accounts run in a cover package on a mag rightly proud of its abolitionist roots is stranger still.

NEXT: Matt Welch on Ron Paul's McCain-Like Path to the GOP Nomination

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  1. They say that breaking up is hard to do.

  2. *sheds tear* Now I must carry on the work of gambol abolition with my arch-nemesis, White Indian.

  3. I’m sure whatever growing pains happened after, the bloc nations are (mostly) more than happy to traveling that unsafe path into the future without the “stability” of the CCCP.

  4. The Nation, founded by abolitionists in 1865

    Brave stance, to be a powerful voice against slavery after slavery was ended.

    I bet they spoke out against The Nazis in 1946, too.

    1. Then there was the Pearl Harbor warning in 1942.

    2. “It’s time for someone who has the courage to stand up and say, I’m against those things that everybody hates!”

    3. You’ve got it all wrong as usual, SugarFree. See, they still had so much to do even after they had put an end to the Negro’s terrible burden forever.

      There were still issues like Progressive social reforms, gun control, alcohol, gambling, and marihuana prohibition, and intervening in those politically unstable hotbeds in Southeast Asia. None of which ended up disproportionately affecting blacks at all.

    4. Actually, the Thirteenth Amendment was not adopted until December 6, 1865.

      Until then it was not a sure thing that slavery was ended. It was still legal in the four border states that had not seceded and were not affected by the Emancipation Proclamation.

      And it was by no means certain that the Emancipation Proclamation had put a lock on abolition. There was still enough support for the “peculiar institution” that many people feared it (the Proclamation) could be reversed if the political winds shifted.

    5. Brave stance, to be a powerful voice against slavery after slavery was ended.

      no. They were abolitionists then the slaves were free, then they opened a magazine.

      Once an abolitionist always an abolitionist.

    6. I was going to note that Nick’s observation was mean… accurate and funny but mean.

      But SF that is brutal – on all the accounts.

  5. Liberals secretly love the CCCP, although never enough to actually move & live there.

    1. …because they actually sold lots of stuff to them, and then to the US government to protect from them.

      Money this way, money that way.

  6. I thought the title was referring to Murray Rothbard.

    1. Come with me and we shall Sell Children on the “Free” market together.

  7. Were they poor after the USSR broke up because of the breakup, or because of the pre-existing USSR?

    1. That’s a dangerous question. Best not think about it.

  8. They contributed so much to Humanity: the T-34, the Kalasnikov, North Korea, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Breshnev’s eyebrows…

    1. Or was Sputnik a market success?

      1. Sputnik! R2D2 totally ripped that one off.

  9. I dunno about Russia, but in Germany Ostalgie is indulged in mainly by hipster Wessis who never lived through the real thing, or Ossis who are too young to remember it but resent still being poorer than the Wessis after this long.

    1. ‘Goodbye Lenin!’ is a great movie.

  10. History is written by the victors men

    1. That’s what Herstory is for! Not to mention the pedagogical transfiguration of post-colonial patriarchal norms into phallocentric behavioural hermeneutics!

      1. I’ve been saying that for years!

        1. …and it still not getting him laid

            1. he shouldn’t have cheated on her! 😉

      2. Have you any idea what’s it like to be a fem-bot living in a man-bot’s man-puter world?

        1. You may have found the root of Rather’s hatred of women.

          She lacks the talent needed to achieve the recognition she feels she deserves so rather then recognizing her lack of talent she blames it on her sex.

  11. I don’t think that this should be surprising. Did anybody read Naomi Klein’s ‘only socialism can save us from catastrophe’ climate-manifesto that the Nation published a month or so ago? Frighteningly stupid.

    1. Naomi Klein……Frighteningly stupid.

      Drop and gimme 20.

      1. Sir! Yes Sir!

      2. Sir! Yes Sir!

  12. …without doing a similar pulse-taking of, say residents of the Baltic states…

    GDP is a flawed measure, but Estonia’s is over four time the size it was under communism. I wonder why.

  13. politics becomes dirty and a zero-sum, lose-lose game only when it has no moral core.

    Also, bears only become dangerous when they’re hungry or grumpy.

  14. Cohen presciently addressed this post and its comments (I know most of y’all can’t be bothered to read the article):

    Where Russia was concerned, their reaction was, as usual, based mainly on anti-Communist ideology and hopeful myths, not historical or contemporary realities.

  15. Whether or not the jettisoning of Gorbachev’s perestroika was a missed opportunity for Russia’s “noncatastrophic transformation,”

    The collapse of the Soviet Union was about as non-catastrophic as could be expected. The communists could have made its dying throes a whole lot worse than they did in a desperate attempt to hold it together.

  16. Pinkos are pinkos because they’re morons. Don’t expect much sense from their writings.

  17. That such accounts run in a cover package on a mag rightly proud of its abolitionist roots is stranger still.

    But Nick, the abolitionists were just proto- Occupy Wall Streeters.

    Slavery is Capitalism distilled to its purest essence.

    1. Slavery is Capitalism distilled to its purest essence.

      This guy does not agree with you.

      The vast majority of the abolitionists were small government gold standard loving classical liberals…and they all voted for republicans.

  18. No, politics becomes dirty and a zero-sum, lose-lose game only when it has no moral core. This, perhaps, is the main lesson to be learned from the past two decades

    And I wonder when these Marxoid crypto-totalitarians will learn that lesson . . . .

  19. The Nation, founded by abolitionists in 1865

    The Nation was founded by a bunch of republicans?


    1. I wonder if a hundred years from now Reason Magazine will one day become an organ for the democrat party and a Stalin (or some future equivalent) apologist.

      1. and an Obama apologist

        evaluated your expression for you (eefy)

        1. eh…

          Stalin built the Soviet union by enslaving the eastern block. By defending the USSR you are defending the legacy of the Stalin.

          Obama as bad as he is is no Future Stalin equivalent.

          To think otherwise makes you worse then Hitler

          1. Note the first “you” refers to a hypothetical “you” working at The Nation.

            The second “you” the the worse then Hitler “you” is also a hypothetical “You” but could be any “you”.

  20. Wow, it seems like these days just not being extremely evil is extremist!

  21. For lefties the collapse of the USSR was traumatic. After all, the USSR was the Citadel of Socialism. Its collapse made the failures of socialism obvious even to the dim-witted.

  22. I assume that this will start a shitstorm here, but is it really fair to criticize the Soviet Union for its system that “engineered the deaths” of millions, without acknowledging that 19th-century American history includes slavery, wiping out the Indians, and the initiation of the Mexican-American and the Spanish-American Wars?

    1. but is it really fair to criticize the Soviet Union

      ummm yes. Lamenting the fall of the USSR is equally as bad as lamenting the end of slavery.

      By the way every time I say North Korea sucks do I have to also talk about the Japanese internment camps under FDR and the Spanish inquisition?

      1. The article doesn’t lament the fall of the USSR. If you want to say the author laments something it would be more accurate to say he laments the way it fell. I’m not familiar with the author and he may have a pro Gorbachev agenda, but he asks questions about how democratic the change was and how fair the process to create private property was. Those seem like fair questions.

        1. (Referring to the Cohen article. Pretty sure Gorbachev does have a pro Gorbachev slant.)

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