Russia

The Nation: From Defending Abolitionism to Defending the USSR

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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.