Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The State of the (Soviet) Union

One of the recurring themes here on The Hipcrime Vocab has been how much the modern-day United States resembles the old Soviet Union, and, to a large extent, modern-day Russia. In the eighteenth century, many people pointed out the similarities between the two growing empires, one in the Western hemisphere, and one in the Eastern Hemisphere. Many felt that conflict was inevitable – and so it was for much of the twentieth century.

I think the problems stem from something I noted in an earlier post on the work of Leopold Kohr – bigness seems to be a central problem in both cases. When governments get too big, they tend to become oligarchies in control of a small elite (for an ancient example, see Rome). In terms of bigness, the U.S. has the world’s largest economy, and is up there in terms of land area and population. In terms of Russia, it is the largest in land area, and large in population and natural resources. The only other countries in this league are India and China, and possibly Brazil, although their economies are much smaller (Canada and Australia have large land areas, but relatively small populations). We've seen many of the same problems of a small oligarchy of rich running things, massive poverty for the masses, and governmental corruption in those other countries as well. For now, the promise of "development" using the last of the world's finite resources keeps those latter countires complacent. The trend, not the circumstances, are what people are paying attention to.

In the end, it seems everything degenerates into Wild West conditions – naked struggles for power and a war of all against all. Maybe that’s all “society” and the human condition is – a Darwinian struggle of the fittest. It’s a cynical view, but looking at the social decay of large countries in the face of industrial capitalism, it's hard not to come to that conclusion. Anyway, on that theme, here's a blog post by Adam Curtis about the political climate of the late U.S.S.R. and modern-day Russia. As usual, his post reads like his documentaries, with all sorts of multimedia:

The Years of Stagnation and the Poodles of Power
Everybody is always remarking about how stuck our society feels these days. The music doesn't change, the political parties are all exactly the same, and films and TV dramas are almost always set in the past.

We are also stuck with an economic system that is not delivering the paradise that it once promised - but is instead creating chaos and hardship. Yet no-one can imagine a better alternative, so we remain static - paralysed by a terrible political and cultural claustrophobia.

I want to tell the story of another time and another place not so long ago that was also stifled by the absence of novelty and lacking a convincing vision of the future. It was in the Soviet Union in the late 1970s and 1980s. At the time they called it "the years of stagnation".

There are of course vast differences between our present society and the Soviet Union of thirty years ago - for one thing they had practically no consumer goods whereas we are surrounded by them, and for another western capitalism was waiting in the wings to fill the vacuum. But there are also echoes of our present mood - a grand economic system that had once promised heaven on earth had become absurd and corrupted.

Everyone in Russia in the early 1980s knew that the managers and technocrats in charge of the economy were using that absurdity to loot the system and enrich themselves. The politicians were unable to do anything because they were in the thrall of the economic theory, and thus of the corrupt technocrats. And above all no-one in the political class could imagine any alternative future.

In the face of this most Soviet people turned away from politics and any form of engagement with society and lived day by day in a world that they knew was absurd, trapped by the lack of a vision of any other way.
And here’s a comment on the Decline of the Empire blog.
"Virtual Politricks" is what we have here in America. Read this quote from an interview with an investigative reporter who spent a considerable amount of time in Russia and then came back to America:

"In Russia you have rich oligarchs funding these fake political movements, virtual politics is what they call it, and then using their minions in the media to push it forward and attack anybody who tries to expose it. I didn't realize when we put out this article in 2009 - you know we were attacked pretty seriously by people from the 'Atlantic Monthly' and so on who later turned out to have ties to the Koch brothers - I didn't realize how far down the road to a sort of Russian Oligarchy we had already gone. When you spend a lot of time in Russia, you understand how cynical oligarchs and the rich, especially when they get involved in politics, can be. One of the huge differences though is that Russians themselves have become very cynical and skeptical, but Americans are still pretty trusting and gullible, and so they keep getting hoodwinked and lead to believe that the tea Party was this completely spontaneous outbreak of protest. In fact the whole thing was guided by rich people to push their buck."
 Interestingly, the same thing ended up happening to post-Soviet Russia at the end of Curtis' blog - so-called "opposition" parties were set up by the Kremlin itself to give an illusion of opposition:
...Surkov created a modern and innovative way of managing the new democratic system - but in a way that his critics say has sidelined the mass of the people and completely diminished real democracy.

To do this Surkov created a constantly shifting political tableau. As well as being one of the architects of Putin's own party, United Russia, Surkov also allegedly helped to set up opposition parties the Kremlin could then use for their own purposes.

Surkov believes that the truth is that the idea of democracy will always be an illusion, that all democracies will always be "managed democracies" whether east or west. So the solution is for a strong state to manipulate people - so that they feel they are free, while they are really being managed.
So it looks like the Koch Brothers and Dick Armee took a page from Russia when they created the Tea Party. And notice that in both countries, when a true people's opposition emerged - Occupy in the U.S. and the marches in Russia following the sham election - they were both ruthlessly supressed by state power.

I recommend reading the DOE post too. Once you get over the illusion the "the people" who ever that is, has any sort of control over what's happening, you can make better decisions about your life. And speaking of sham democracy, here's a taste of what's going on here in Wisconsin:
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin's polarizing governor is fighting attempts to recall him with money from out-of-state donors, who helped him bring in more than $12 million since last year.

An Associated Press analysis of campaign finance reports Republican Gov. Scott Walker filed Monday showed 61 percent of the $4.1 million he raised during the five-week reporting period came from out of state.

Many of the contributions came from big donors, including $250,000 from conservative Texas financier Bob Perry and a total of $750,000 from three people in Missouri. More than half of Walker's money came from people who donated $20,000 or more, such as Michael Bidwill, president of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, who gave $25,000.

Walker's latest efforts take advantage of a state law that allows targets of a recall to ignore the usual $10,000 per-donor cap and raise unlimited amounts until an election is set. Walker has been traversing the country raising money and speaking at gatherings of conservatives from Texas to New York and Tennessee.

"We haven't seen anything like this before," Mike McCabe, director of the government watchdog group the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, said Tuesday. His group's analysis of Walker's latest fundraising totals, which covered Dec. 11 through Jan. 17, showed that 33 donors gave between $20,000 and $250,000 for a total of $2.3 million.
In fact, just four reactionary rich people  have donated over a million dollars. But here's the best part:
Walker's campaign spokeswoman Ciara Matthews said the level of donations shows Walker's message is resonating with voters.
Have you stopped laughing yet? His "message" is resonating with somebody all right, but I don't think most Wisconsin voters have $20,000 to contribute to Walker's relection, especially nearly half of Americans couldn't come up with 2,000 in an emergency.
Unlike Walker's donors, most of those funding Democrats — 67 percent — live in Wisconsin.

Democrats, who are bound by the state's campaign donation limits, have said they don't expect to keep up with Walker's fundraising.

"We will be outspent three or four to one," state Democratic Party Chairman Mike Tate said.
And if you're wondering who is going to call the shots in Wisconsin the next few years (assuming a Walker victory), here they are (hint: they don't live in Wisconsin):

Walker has spent $9.8 million over the past 54 weeks, with much of it going toward television advertising that started the night before those gathering signatures on recall petitions hit the streets. He reported having $2.6 million in cash left.

Some of Walker's biggest backers are well-known conservatives.

Bidwill is a frequent donor to Republican candidates across the country. Perry, a Texas home builder, helped pay for the Swift Boat Veterans ads that attacked Sen. John Kerry during the 2004 presidential campaign. Perry has a total of $500,000 to Walker's campaign.

The three others who gave Walker $250,000 each during one week this month were Missouri residents David C. Humphreys and his sister Sarah Atkins, both of Tamko Building Products, and Stanley M. Herzog of Herzog Contracting.

Members of the Humphreys family are some of the largest Republican donors in Missouri.
Yup, Walker's message is sure resonating with ordinary voters, isn't it? Aren't you glad you live in democracy?

UPDATE: According to the Journal Sentinel, Walker is outpolling most challengers.


  1. a damning analysis of Obummer's SOTU speech:

    Nader Shines a flood light on Reality

    Well worth the watch, and he confirms everything you talk about in the above post.

  2. Nader's always informative. I think if more people got a chance, they'd agree with him, which is why he's frozen out of the "mainstream" media.


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