The world is deluged with periodicals, journals, newsletters, pamphlets, ‘zines and such. Anyone who has something to say (and who doesn’t?) can always find an outlet for their opinions. It is difficult to follow every stream of thought in this flood, but some attract the attention for any n umber of reasons.
In one case, the reasons include a fascinated but horrified sense of pity.
Northstar Compass has been in publication since shortly after the end of the Soviet Union. Its Canadian editorial staff largely consist of septuagenarian stalwarts of the old Communist Party of Canada, and its tiny subset, the Canadian Friends of Soviet People (formerly the Canada-USSR Association). The main editorial policy appears to be a refusal to accept the demise of the USSR, and a belief that this temporary obstacle in the march to the Final Society can be overcome once everyone else wakes up. The newsletter’s global scattering of correspondents and backers, likewise usually of advanced years, appear to share this determination.
The initial attraction to the paper (at the Institute anyway) was nostalgia and amusement. Here was a last dying echo of the Cold War, a last sip of breathless Russian- style or old-fashioned Marxist prose. What else could one make of the following?
Facts are piling onfacts, deeds follow evil deeds that clearly show what is being plannedfor Russia by US Imperialism and the CIA! .
Now that the sinister enemy of the USSR was invoked, came the usual call for unity …
In the meantime, there are more and more left parties beingformed, more and more debates as to what went wrong, who
was to blame and whether the USSR was ‘1’ [ . ] “‘ socza IStS SIC, etc. etc ….
Multiple exclamation marks are always a sure indicator of a healthy and balanced intellect – but we digress. Boris Yeltsin is especially disliked …
Boris (Vodka) Yeltsin is in many ways a spit [sic] image of Clinton. But he has Clinton beat- he knows his vodka inside and out plus other vices which are just beginning to become known, such as unashamedly pinching in public the women secretaries [sic] behinds!
From these and other easy clues – such as the constant insertion of the phrase “Arise You Mighty Land!” (usually in capital letters) – one could make some easy deductions about the magazine’s producers and main readership. These semantics and attitudes from Russians would be understandable, but their Canadian origin makes them even more mysterious. However, the greying pensioners ofthe old Soviet state do make a lot of contributions to the paper, as do other elderly Communists.
In the dying days of Communism, Canadian Party members (like others around the world) stayed mute about the atrocities of Stalin’s USSR. Loath to admit error, many Communists pretended Stalin never happened or was an aberration. The enthusiastic recovery in Northstar Compass of the Great Georgian’s stock gives a real clue to the motivation of the editors and subscribers – as does their age.
These are people who had emotionally bonded with the great heroic USSR of the 1930s and’ 40s. This was not the real Soviet Union of course, but the public one of heroic muscular women peasants and dynamic male workers standing by giant blast furnaces. Their Soviet Union was the glorious Red Army winning victory after victory against the Fascists. (They neglect the sorry reality that it cost the blundering Russians 3-4 dead for every German soldier they slew. We should be grateful for what the Soviets did, but they paid a hideous blood price for Stalin’s purge of their generals on the eve of the war).
To the staff at Northstar Compass and their readers, the great, dynamic USSR and Stalin cannot be gone. All the sacrifices (morality, conscience, independent thought … ) made for it cannot have been in vain. This “Mighty Land” must arise again, if only to bring the long hoped-for dream back on course.
At this time, Yeltsin’s government is on the verge of collapse. As Russia enters the autumn of 1998, its situation looks very bleak. For the Northstar Compass, the situation could not be better and they appear to find it difficult to contain their excitement. Every rumble of discontent is a sign that their nightmare will soon end. The idea that capitalism could triumph in the land of the future was anathema, and thank Lenin the Russians are waking up again!
Oops. As if capitalism ever triumphed in the former Soviet Union. As if the seeming resurgence of Russian communists could do anything with that intractable mess. The great tragedy of post-Soviet Russia has been its absolute inability to confront the past, and its failure to address the real legacies of Soviet society.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Andrei Amalrik, ‘Viktor Surov’ and many other Russians, observed that corruption and deceit were integral to Soviet society. Soviets had to lie to each other and themselves on a daily basis to function. Transparent honesty was not a survival characteristic at any time. Soviets also had to I ie to each other about their economy – its functions were based on artificial values, imaginary worth, and illusionary transactions.
By the late 1970s, the whole apparatus was unravelling, and even Gorbachev’s last minute surgery and nostrums could not breathe any more life into the patient. After 74 years, and some 62 million lives (plus some 15-20 million lost to Hitler), the Soviet Union collapsed. Sadly, the true legacy of the Soviet Union upon the peoples of Russia continued to assert itself. Homo Sovieticus, now often wrapped in Western brand names; still haunts his familiar landscape.
The signal reasons for the Soviet collapse were the unwarranted diversion of immense resources into the military sector, rampaging corruption, and the fundamental flaws of a Marxist economy. Military spending has ,shrunk considerably since 1991 . Corruption, like an escaped experiment in a bad Sci-Fi movie, took on a life of its own and has become even worse. However, corruption is still secondary to the inherent defects of the Post-Soviet economy.
In the September/October 1998 edition of Foreign Affairs, an article entitled “Russia’s Virtual Economy” finally mapped out the real ity of the Post-1991 system. Clifford Gady of the Brookings Institution and Barry Ickes, Associate Professor of Economics at Pennsylvania State University, have demonstrated that the Russians are still wheeling and dealing in cloud cuckoo land. Since the “reforms”, the Russians have adopted a new economic system based – like the old one – on artificial values, imaginary worth, and phantom transactions.
Most people believe that the Russians have been trying to reform their economy, but have been hampered by crime, corruption, faulty management, and a host of other considerations. As a result of this, Russia has a large budget deficit and cannot service its debt. All of these problems are very real, but they are not the worst of it. According to Gaddy and Ickes, the Russians have created a market system that is even worse than the old one.
The economy they describe is “based on an illusion about almost every important parameter: prices, sules, wages, taxes, and budgets. At its heart is the pretense that the economy is much larger than it really is. This pretense allows for a larger government and larger expenditures than Russia can afford. It is the real cause behind the web of wage, supply and tax arrears from which Russia cannot seem to extricate itself”
Everybody in Russia has bought into this virtual economy. The widespread barter system (which extends to every level of society) deals in goods with artificially inflated values. Workers and pensioners are promised high wages that remain in arrears, rather than receiving the low wages which is all the economy can afford. The government deals in ‘deferred’ taxes rather than real income. Supposedly privatized factories “sell” their goods to the state at a notional price far above what a real market would tolerate, and so on. Almost every sector of the economy is making or accepting promises that can never be met, and the make-believe bubble of value is going to pop very soon.
Russians – from ordinary pensioners and coal miners to “bankers” and bureaucrats – were eager to believe in the lie of the virtual economy. First, tile reality of their situation was too harsh to accept in 1991. Having compounded the error, they are even less likely to accept reality now. Secondly, having been conditioned to accept lies at face value for decades, it was easy to accept the virtual economy, no matter what private misgivings any individual might have had.
Trouble does slide in on an exponential curve. The Russians lost seven decades in a painful journey down a dead-end, and seven years in backing up into a new wrong turn. The crisis is already upon the Russians, but perhaps seven months (when a thin spring follows a hungry winter) might elapse before the climax of the drama begins. When the real crisis does come, it may be the final grim chapter in Russia’s unhappiest century.
However, for the elderly Russian Communists and their old friends in Canada and elsewhere, the crisis is welcome news. For them, the virtual economy is capitalism red in tooth and claw, and not a mutated version of the old “real” Soviet economy. For them, the crisis is proof of capitalism’s failings, and it is just possible that the mighty Soviet Union may be reborn … Maybe. But to follow one lie with another lie, and then to go back to the first lie? Nobody could be that foolish, could they?