Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the boys of Capital have chortled in their martinis about the death of socialism. Until recently, the word had been banned from polite conversation (now achieving new notoriety as a term of political insult). And no one seems to notice that every socialist experiment of any significance in the twentieth century was either bombed, invaded, or overthrown; corrupted, perverted, or destabilized; or otherwise had life made impossible for it, by the United States. Not one socialist government or movement – from the Russian revolution to the Vietnamese communists to the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, from Communist China to Salvador Allende in Chile to the FMLN in Salvador – not one was permitted to rise or fall solely on its own merits; not one was left secure enough to drop its guard against the all-powerful enemy abroad and freely and fully relax control at home. It continues today with Washington’s attempts to subvert the governments of Venezuela and Bolivia, and, of course, still, forever, Cuba.

Imagine that the Wright brothers’ first experiments with flying machines had all failed because the automobile interests had sabotaged each test flight. And then, thanks to the auto companies’ propaganda, the good and god-fearing folk of the world looked upon this, took notice of the consequences, nodded their collective heads wisely, and intoned solemnly: Man shall never fly.

It’s widely assumed that the Soviet Union demise resulted from gross shortcomings intrinsic to its socialist system, that the economy somehow imploded from its inherent contradictions. But all the shortcomings and contradictions that could have been found in the Soviet system in 1990 could have as well been found in 1980, or 1970, or 1960. Unlike capitalism, whose volatility is legendary, as each day’s headlines remind us anew, the Soviet system with its government ownership of the means of production and its command economy, whatever its other defects, remained relatively stable and uniform. The question is thus: What happened in the late 1980s in the Soviet system to cause it to unravel? I believe that the best answer to the question lies in the person of Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who came to power in 1985.

Gorbachev’s long-time and ardent ambition was to model the Soviet Union after a West European social democracy and have the country accepted as such by the Europeans. That’s the principal reason he put an end to the Soviet military involvement in Afghanistan; and why he instituted his historic economic and political changes at home (with their unintended consequences), and relinquished control over Eastern Europe without resorting to military force. The war in Afghanistan certainly had its effects, financially and psychologically, upon the people of the Soviet Union, and is commonly cited as a major cause for the nation’s breakup. But the same can be said even more so of the effect of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq upon the American people, millions of whom have marched against the wars, yet none of this has led to an American withdrawal from either place; not even close. Superpowers should not be confused with democracies.

Ayn Rand’s social philosophy: Let the strong prevail, let the weak pay for their weakness

“I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms. … So the problem here is [that] something which looked to be a very solid edifice and, indeed, a critical pillar to market competition and free markets, did break down. And I think that, as I said, shocked me.”

A remarkable admission from Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, long-time opponent of government regulation of the corporate world, and friend and devoted follower of Ayn Rand, the selfishness guru who turned the emulation of two-year olds into a philosophy of life. “I have found a flaw,” said Greenspan, referring to his economic philosophy. “I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I have been very distressed by that fact.”[7]

Greenspan was induced into these admissions by tough questioning from congressmen at a hearing called in October to deal with the financial crisis. There was a time when Greenspan was looked upon as a guru by a largely unquestioning and unchallenging congress and media, no matter how dubious or obscure his pronouncements. He could have passed at times for Chauncey Gardener, the main character of the book and film “Being There”. Gardener, brought to life by Peter Sellers, was a simple man with very simple thoughts and behavior, who might have been considered to be borderline “retarded”, but fortuitous circumstances and the deference toward him by those of insufficient intellect and/or courage resulted in him being thought of as brilliant by people in high positions.

There was one noteworthy exception to this delicate treatment of Greenspan. In July 2003, Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont faced the Fed chairman across the table at a congressional hearing and said:

“Mr. Greenspan, I have long been concerned that you are way out of touch with the needs of the middle class and working families of our country, that you see your major function in your position as the need to represent the wealthy and large corporations … I think you just don’t know what’s going on in the real world. … You talk about an improving economy, while we have lost 3 million private sector jobs in the last two years. Long-term unemployment has more than tripled. … We have a $4 trillion national debt. 1.4 million Americans have lost their health insurance. Millions of seniors can’t afford prescription drugs. Middle class families can’t send their kids to college because they don’t have the money to do that.”

“Congressman,” Greenspan replied, “we have the highest standard of living in the world.”

“No, we do not,” insisted Sanders. “You go to Scandinavia, and you will find that people have a much higher standard of living, in terms of education, health care and decent paying jobs. Wrong, Mister.”

Not accustomed to having to defend his profundities, Greenspan could do no better than to counter with: “We have the highest standard of living for a country of our size.”[8]

This was quite a comedown from “in the world”, and inasmuch as the only countries of equal or larger population are China and India, with Indonesia being the fourth largest, Greenspan’s point is rather difficult to evaluate.

The idea that the United States has the highest standard of living in the world is one that is actually believed by numerous grownups in America, and most of them believe that this highest standard applies across the board. They’re only minimally conscious of the fact that whereas they’ve made extremely painful sacrifices to send a child to university, and they often simply can’t come up with enough money, and even if they can the child will be very heavily in debt for years afterward, in much of Western Europe university education is either free or eminently affordable; as it is in Cuba and was in Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

The same lack of awareness about superior conditions in other countries extends to health care, working hours, vacation time, maternity leave, child care, unemployment insurance, and a host of other social and economic benefits.

In short, amongst the developed nations, the United States is the worst place to be a worker, to be sick, to seek a university education, to be a parent; or, in the land of two million incarcerated, to exercise certain rights or be a defendant in court.

To which the Chauncey Gardeners of America, including the one who used to sit in the Federal Reserve and the one presently sitting in the Oval Office, would say: “Duh! Whaddaya mean?”

The Rosenbergs as heroes

John Gerassi, professor of political science at Queens College in New York City, recently wrote a letter to the New York Times:

To the Editor: NYT

In his “A Spy Confesses” (Week in Review 9/21), Sam Roberts claims that folks “fiercely loyal to the far left, believed that the Rosenbergs were not guilty …” I am and have always been, since my stint as a correspondent and editor in Latin America for Time and Newsweek, a “far leftist,” and I have never claimed the Rosenbergs were not guilty. Nor have any of my “far leftist” friends. What we always said, and what I repeat to my students every semester, is that “if they were guilty, they are this planet’s great heroes.” My explanation is quite simple: The US had a first-strike policy, the USSR did not (until Gorbachev). In 1952, the US military, and various intelligence services, calculated that a first strike on all Soviet silos would wipe out all but 6% of Russian atomic missiles (and, we now know, create enough radiation to kill us all). But those six percent would automatically be fired at US cities. The military then calculated what would happen if one made a direct hit on Denver (why they chose Denver and not New York or Washington was never explained). Their finding: 200,000 would die immediately, two million within a month. They concluded that it was not worth it. In other words, I tell my students, you were born and I am alive because the USSR had a deterrent against our “preventive” attack, not the other way around. And if it is true that the Rosenbergs helped the Soviets get that deterrent, they end up among the planet’s saviors.

– John Gerassi ([email protected])

[It will not come as a great surprise to learn that the Times did not allow such thoughts to appear in their exalted pages.]

__________

[1] Tim Weiner, “Blank Check: The Pentagon’s Black Budget” (1990), p.149-50.

[2] Washington Post, November 21, 1971

[3] Los Angeles Times, September 13, 1988, p.19. For further discussion of this issue, see Russ Bellant, “Old Nazis and the New Right: The Republican Party and Fascists”, Covert Action Information Bulletin (Washington, DC), #33, Winter 1990, p.27-31

[4] New York Times, October 3, 2008

[5] David Talbot, Salon.com, October 7, 2008

[6] John Dinges, The Huffington Post, October 24, 2008, based on a declassified US Embassy cable

[7] Washington Post, October 23, 2008

[8] House Financial Services Committee, July 15, 2003;

http://commdocs.house.gov/committees/bank/hba91775.000/hba91775_0f.htm