‘If not me, who?’: Mikhail Gorbachev ended Cold War and saved the world, but failed to save Soviet Union FEATURE

30 Aug, 2022

It is hard to imagine that anyone could have dismantled the Soviet Union from the inside faster or more comprehensively than Mikhail Gorbachev, a man who had no such intention. Its crumbling is both Gorbachev’s singular achievement and his personal tragedy.

It is also the most important moment in history since 1945.

Popular perceptions have transformed the former Soviet leader into a kitschy icon, remembered as much for starring in an advert for no-crust pizza, as for picking up a Nobel Peace Prize.

But in the demise of ‘The Evil Empire’ he was no naïf, nor a catalyst for generic historic inevitabilities. Almost every single event in the countdown to the fall of communism in Russia and beyond is a direct reflection of the ideals, actions and foibles of Mikhail Gorbachev and those he confronted or endorsed.

This is the story of a farm mechanic who managed to penetrate the inner sanctum of the world’s biggest country, an explanation of what drove him once he reached the top, and an attempt to understand whether he deserves opprobrium or sympathy, ridicule or appreciation.

First president of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev before a parade marking the 69th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War.
RIA Novosti.
The first president of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev signs autographs during the presentation of his new book “Alone with Myself” in the Moskva store.
RIA Novosti.

If not me, who? And if not now, when?
— Mikhail Gorbachev

CHILDHOOD

Growing up a firebrand Communist among Stalin’s purges

Born in 1931 in a Ukrainian-Russian family in the village of Privolnoye in the fertile Russian south, Mikhail Gorbachev’s childhood was punctuated by a series of almost Biblical ordeals, albeit those shared by millions of his contemporaries.

His years as a toddler coincided with Stalin’s policy of collectivization – the confiscation of private lands from peasants to form new state-run farms – and Stavropol, Russia’s Breadbasket, was one of the worst-afflicted. Among the forcible reorganization and resistance, harvests plummeted and government officials requisitioned scarce grain under threat of death.

Gorbachev later said that his first memory is seeing his grandfather boiling frogs he caught in the river during the Great Famine.

Yet another grandfather, Panteley – a former landless peasant — rose from poverty to become the head of the local collective farm. Later Gorbachev attributed his ideological make-up largely to his grandfather’s staunch belief in Communism “which gave him the opportunity to earn everything he had.”

Panteley’s convictions were unshaken even when he was arrested as part of Stalin’s Great Purge. He was accused of joining a “counter-revolutionary Trotskyite movement” (which presumably operated a cell in their distant village) but returned to his family after 14 months behind bars just in time for the Second World War to break out.

Just in time for the Second World War to break out. For much of the conflict, the battle lines between the advancing Germans and the counter-attacking Red Army stretched across Gorbachev’s homeland; Mikhail’s father was drafted, and even reported dead, but returned with only shrapnel lodged in his leg at the end of the war.

Although Sergey was a distant presence in his son’s life up to then and never lived with him, he passed on to Mikhail a skill that played a momentous role in his life — that of a farm machinery mechanic and harvester driver. Bright by all accounts, Mikhail quickly picked up the knack — later boasting that he could pick out any malfunction just by the sound of the harvester or the tractor alone.

But this ability was unlikely to earn him renown beyond his village. Real acclaim came when the father and son read a new decree that would bestow a national honor on anyone who threshed more than 8000 quintals (800 tons or more than 20 big truckloads) of grain during the upcoming harvest. In the summer of 1948 Gorbachev senior and junior ground an impressively neat 8888 quintals. As with many of the agricultural and industrial achievements that made Soviet heroes out of ordinary workers, the exact details of the feat – and what auxiliary efforts may have made it possible – are unclear, but 17-year-old Gorbachev became one of the youngest recipients of the prestigious Order of the Red Banner of Labor in its history.

Having already been admitted to the Communist Party in his teen years (a rare reward given to the most zealous and politically reliable) Mikhail used the medal as an immediate springboard to Moscow. The accolade for the young wheat-grinder meant that he did not have to pass any entrance exams or even sit for an interview at Russia’s most prestigious Moscow State University.

With his village school education, Gorbachev admitted that he initially found the demands of a law degree, in a city he’d never even visited before, grueling. But soon he met another ambitious student from the countryside, and another decisive influence on his life. The self-assured, voluble Raisa, who barely spent a night apart from her husband until her death, helped to bring out the natural ambition in the determined, but occasionally studious and earnest Gorbachev. Predictably, Gorbachev rose to become one of the senior figures at the university’s Komsomol, the Communist youth league — which with its solemn group meetings and policy initiatives served both as a prototype and the pipeline for grown-up party activities.

STAVROPOL

Party reformist flourishes in Khruschev’s Thaw

Upon graduation in 1955, Gorbachev lasted only ten days back in Stavropol’s prosecutor’s office (showing a squeamishness dealing with the less idealistic side of the Soviet apparatus) before running across a local Komsomol official. For the next 15 years his biography reads like a blur of promotions – rising to become Stavropol region’s top Komsomol bureaucrats, overseeing agriculture for a population of nearly 2.5 million people before his 40th birthday.

All the trademarks of Gorbachev’s leadership style, which later became famous around the world, were already in evidence here. Eschewing Soviet officials’ habit of barricading themselves inside the wood-paneled cabinets behind multiple receptions, Gorbachev spent vast swathes of his time ‘in the field’, often literally in a field. With his distinctive southern accent, and his genuine curiosity about the experiences of ordinary people, the young official a struck chord as he toured small villages and discussed broken projectors at local film clubs and shortages of certain foodstuffs.

His other enthusiasm was for public discussion, particularly about specific, local problems – once again in contrast with the majority of officials, who liked to keep negative issues behind closed doors. Gorbachev set up endless discussion clubs and committees, almost quixotically optimistic about creating a better kind of life among the post-war austerity.

POLITBURO

Cutting the line to the throne

By the 1970s any sign of modernization in Soviet society or leadership was a distant memory, as the country settled into supposed “advanced socialism”, with the upheavals and promises of years past replaced by what was widely described as ‘An Era of Stagnation’ (the term gained official currency after being uttered by Gorbachev himself in one of his early public speeches after ascending to the summit of the Soviet system).

Without Stalin’s regular purges, and any democratic replacement mechanisms, between the mid-1960s and 1980s, almost the entire apparatus of Soviet leadership remained unchanged, down from the increasingly senile Leonid Brezhnev, who by the end of his life in 1982 became a figure of nationwide mockery and pity, as he slurred through speeches and barely managed to stand during endless protocol events, wearing gaudy carpets of military honors for battles he never participated in. Predictably, power devolved to the various factions below, as similarly aged heavyweights pushed their protégés into key positions.

The Kremlin Palace of Congresses (now the State Kremlin Palace). The XXV Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Feb. 24-March 5, 1976). CPSU Central Committee General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev delivering speech.
RIA Novosti.

Mikhail Andreyevich Suslov, CPSU CC Politbureau member, CPSU CC secretary, twice Hero of Socialist Labor.
RIA Novosti.Leonid Brezhnev, left, chairman of the USSR Supreme Soviet Presidium and general secretary of the CPSU Central Committee, with Alexei Kosygin, chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers, on Lenin’s Mausoleum on May 1, 1980.
RIA Novosti.The Soviet Communist Party’s politburo member Konstantin Chernenko and central committee member Yury Andropov attend the Kremlin Palace of Congresses’ government session dedicated to the 60th anniversary of the USSR.
RIA Novosti.Yuri Andropov (1914-1984), General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee (since November 1982).
RIA Novosti.

With a giant country as the playground, the system rewarded those who came up with catchy programs and slogans, took credit for successes and steered away from failures, and networked tirelessly to build up support above and below. Gorbachev thrived here. His chief patrons were Brezhnev himself, purist party ideologue Mikhail Suslov, who considered Stavropol his powerbase, and most crucially the hardline head of the KGB, Yuri Andropov. The security chief referred to the aspiring politician as ‘My Stavropol Rough Diamond’ — another rejoinder to those seeking to paint Gorbachev as a naïve blessed outsider, a Joan of Arc of the Soviet establishment.

After being called to Moscow in 1978 to oversee Soviet agriculture — an apocryphal story suggests that he nearly missed out on the appointment when senior officials couldn’t find him after he got drunk celebrating a Komsomol anniversary, only to be rescued by a driver at the last moment — Mikhail Gorbachev was appointed to the Politburo in 1980.

The Politburo, which included some but not all of the ministers and regional chiefs of the USSR, was an inner council that took all the key decisions in the country, with the Soviet leader sitting at the top of the table, holding the final word (though Brezhnev sometimes missed meetings or fell asleep during them). When Gorbachev became a fully-fledged member he was short of his 50th birthday. All but one of the dozen other members were over sixty, and most were in their seventies. To call them geriatric was not an insult, but a literal description of a group of elderly men – many beset by chronic conditions far beyond the reach of Soviet doctors – that were more reminiscent of decrepit land barons at the table of a feudal king than effective bureaucrats. Even he was surprised by how quickly it came.

Brezhnev, who suffered from a panoply of circulation illnesses, died of a heart attack in 1982. Andropov, who was about to set out on an energetic screw-tightening campaign, died of renal failure in 1984. Konstantin Chernenko was already ill when he came to leadership, and died early in 1985 of cirrhosis. The tumbling of aged sovereigns, both predictable and tragicomic in how they reflected on the leadership of a country of more than 250 million people, not only cleared the path for Gorbachev, but strengthened the credentials of the young, energetic pretender.

Leonid Brezhnev’s funeral procession at Vladimir Lenin’s mausoleum.
RIA Novosti.

The decorations of General Secretary of the CPSU Leonid Brezhnev seen during his lying-in-state ceremony at the House of Unions.
RIA Novosti.Mikhail Gorbachev, the first and the last Soviet president (second left in the foreground) attending the funeral of General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee Konstantin Chernenko (1911-1985) in Moscow’s Red Square.
RIA Novosti.The funeral procession during the burial of Leonid Brezhnev, general secretary of the CPSU central committee, chairman of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet.
RIA Novosti.The funeral of Yuri Andropov, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. The coffin is placed on pedestal near the Mausoleum on Red Square.
RIA Novosti.The funeral procession for General Secretary of the CPSU Konstantin Chernenko moving towards Red Square.
RIA Novosti.General Secretary of the Central Comittee of CPSU Mikhail Gorbachev at the tribune of Lenin mausoleum during May Day demonstration, Red square.
RIA Novosti.

On 11 March 1985, Gorbachev was named the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR.

REFORMS NEEDED

Overcoming economic inefficiency with temperance campaigns

As often in history, the reformer came in at a difficult time. Numbers showed that economic growth, which was rampant as Russia industrialized through the previous four decades, slowed down in Brezhnev’s era, with outside sources suggesting that the economy grew by an average of no more than 2 percent for the decade.

The scarcity of the few desirable goods produced and their inefficient distribution meant that many Soviet citizens spent a substantial chunk of their time either standing in queues or trading and obtaining things as ordinary as sugar, toilet paper or household nails through their connections, either “under the counter” or as Party and workplace perks, making a mockery of Communist egalitarianism. The corruption and lack of accountability in an economy where full employment was a given, together with relentless trumpeting of achievement through monolithic newspapers and television programs infected private lives with doublethink and cynicism.

A line of shoppers outside the Lenvest footwear shop.
Ria Novosti.

But this still does not describe the drab and constraining feel of the socialist command economy lifestyle, not accidentally eschewed by all societies outside of North Korea and Cuba in the modern world. As an example, but one central to the Soviet experience: while no one starved, there was a choice of a handful of standardized tins — labeled simply salmon, or corned beef — identical in every shop across the country, and those who were born in 1945 could expect to select from the same few goods until the day they died, day-in, day-out. Soviets dressed in the same clothes, lived in identical tower block housing, and hoped to be issued a scarce Lada a decade away as a reward for their loyalty or service. Combined with the lack of personal freedoms, it created an environment that many found reassuring, but others suffocating, so much so that a trivial relic of a different world, stereotypically a pair of American jeans, or a Japanese TV, acquired a cultural cachet far disproportionate to its function. Soviets could not know the mechanisms of actually living within a capitalist society — with its mortgages, job markets, and bills — but many felt that there were gaudier, freer lives being led all around the world.

And though it brought tens of millions of people out of absolute poverty, there was no longer an expectation that the lifestyles of ordinary Soviets would significantly improve whether a year or a decade into the future, and promise of a better future was always a key tenet of communism.

Several wide-ranging changes were attempted, in 1965 and 1979, but each time the initial charge was wound down into ineffectual tinkering as soon as the proposed changed encroached on the fundamentals of the Soviet regime — in which private commercial activity was forbidden and state control over the economy was total and centralized.

Moscow, Russia. Customers at the Okean [Ocean] seafood store. 1988.
Ria Novosti.

Gorbachev deeply felt the malaise, and displayed immediate courage to do what is necessary — sensing that his reforms would not only receive support from below, but no insurmountable resistance from above. The policy of Uskorenie, or Acceleration, which became one of the pillars of his term, was announced just weeks after his appointment — it was billed as an overhaul of the economy.

But it did not address the fundamental structural inefficiencies of the Soviet regime. Instead it offered more of the same top-down administrative solutions — more investment, tighter supervision of staff, less waste. Any boost achieved through rhetoric and managerial dress-downs sent down the pyramid of power was likely to be inconsequential and peter out within months.

His second initiative, just two months after assuming control, betrayed these very same well-meaning but misguided traits. With widespread alcohol consumption a symptom of late-Soviet decline, Gorbachev devised a straightforward solution — lowering alcohol production and eventually eradicating drinking altogether.

Doctor Lev Kravchenko conducting reflexotherapy session with a patient at the Moscow Narcological Clinical Hospital #17.
RIA Novosti
Stolichnaya vodka from the Moscow Liqueur and Vodka Distillery.
RIA Novosti.

“Women write to me saying that children see their fathers again, and they can see their husbands,” said Gorbachev when asked about whether the reform was working.

Opponents of the illiberal measure forced Russian citizens into yet more queues, while alcoholics resorted to drinking industrial fluids and aftershave. Economists said that the budget, which derived a quarter of its total retail sales income from alcohol, was severely undermined. Instead a shadow economy sprung up — in 1987, 500 thousand people were arrested for engaging in it, five times more than just two years earlier.

More was needed, and Gorbachev knew it.

PERE­STROIKA

“We must rebuild ourselves. All of us!”

Gorbachev at his zenith

Gorbachev first uttered the word perestroika — reform, or rebuilding — in May 1986, or rather he told journalists, using the characteristic and endearing first-person plural, “We must rebuild ourselves. All of us!” Picked up by reporters, within months the phrase became a mainstay of Gorbachev’s speeches, and finally the symbol of the entire era.

Before his reforms had been chiefly economic and within the existing frameworks; now they struck at the political heart of the Soviet Union.

The revolution came from above, during a long-prepared central party conference blandly titled “On Reorganization and the Party’s Personnel Policy” on January 27, 1987.

In lieu of congratulatory platitudes that marked such occasions in past times, Gorbachev cheerfully delivered the suspended death sentence for Communist rule in the Soviet Union (much as he didn’t suspect it at the time).

“The Communist Party of the Soviet Union and its leaders, for reasons that were within their own control, did not realize the need for change, understand the growing critical tension in the society, or develop any means to overcome it. The Communist Party has not been able to take full advantage of socialist society,”
said the leader to an audience that hid its apprehension.

“The only way that a man can order his house, is if he feels he is its owner. Well, a country is just the same,” came Gorbachev’s trademark mix of homely similes and grand pronouncements.” Only with the extension of democracy, of expanding self-government can our society advance in industry, science, culture and all aspects of public life.”

“For those of you who seem to struggle to understand, I am telling you: democracy is not the slogan, it is the very essence of Perestroika.”

Gorbachev used the word ‘revolution’ eleven times in his address, anointing himself an heir to Vladimir Lenin. But what he was proposing had no precedent in Russian or Soviet history.

The word democracy was used over 70 times in that speech alone.
The Soviet Union was a one-party totalitarian state, which produced 99.9 percent election results with people picking from a single candidate. Attempts to gather in groups of more than three, not even to protest, were liable to lead to arrest, as was any printed or public political criticism, though some dissidents were merely subjected to compulsory psychiatric care or forced to renounce their citizenship. Millions were employed either as official KGB agents, or informants, eavesdropping on potentially disloyal citizens. Soviet people were forbidden from leaving the country, without approval from the security services and the Party. This was a society operated entirely by those in power, relying on compliance and active cooperation in oppression from a large proportion of the population. So, the proposed changes were a fundamental reversal of the flows of power in society.

General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee Mikhail Gorbachyov making his report “October and perestroika: the revolution continues” in the Kremlin Palace of Congresses at a joint session of the CPSU Central Committee and the USSR Supreme Soviet, devoted to the 70th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution.
RIA Novosti.

Between Gorbachev’s ascent and by the end of that year, two thirds of the Politburo, more than half of the regional chiefs and forty percent of the membership of the Central Committee of Communist Party, were replaced.

Gorbachev knew that democracy was impossible without what came to be known as glasnost, an openness of public discussion.

“We are all coming to the same conclusion — we need glasnost, we need criticism and self-criticism. In our country everything concerns the people, because it is their country,”
said Gorbachev, cunningly echoing Lenin, at that January forum, though the shoots of glasnost first emerged the year before.

From the middle of 1986 until 1987 censored Soviet films that lay on the shelves for years were released, the KGB stopped jamming the BBC World Service and Voice of America, Nobel Peace Prize winner nuclear physicist Andrei Sakharov and hundreds of other dissidents were set free, and archives documenting Stalin-era repressions were opened.

A social revolution was afoot. Implausibly, within two years, television went from having no programs that were unscripted, to Vzglyad, a talk show anchored by 20 and 30-somethings (at a time when most Soviet television presented were fossilized mannequins) that discussed the war in Afghanistan, corruption or drugs with previously banned videos by the Pet Shop Boys or Guns N’ Roses as musical interludes. For millions watching Axl Rose, cavorting with a microphone between documentaries about steel-making and puppet shows, created cognitive dissonance that verged on the absurd. As well as its increasing fascination with the West, a torrent of domestic creativity was unleashed. While much of what was produced in the burgeoning rock scene and the liberated film making industry was derivative, culturally naïve and is now badly dated, even artifacts from the era still emanate an unmistakable vitality and sincerity.

Rock for Peace concert in Moscow, 1988.
RIA Novosti.

“Bravo!” Poster by Svetlana and Alexander Faldin. Allegorically portraying USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev, it appeared at the poster exposition, Perestroika and Us.
RIA Novosti.Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee and Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, talking to reporters during a break between sessions. The First Congress of People’s Deputies of the USSR (May 25 — June 9, 1989). The Kremlin Palace of Congresses.
RIA Novosti.

Many welcomed the unprecedented level of personal freedom and the chance to play an active part in their own country’s history, others were alarmed, while others still rode the crest of the wave when swept everything before it, only to renounce it once it receded. But it is notable that even the supposed staunchest defenders of the ancien régime — the KGB officers, the senior party members — who later spent decades criticizing Perestroika, didn’t step in to defend Brezhnev-era Communism as they saw it being demolished.

What everyone might have expected from the changes is a different question — some wanted the ability to travel abroad without an exit visa, others the opportunity to earn money, others still to climb the political career ladder without waiting for your predecessor die in office. But unlike later accounts, which often presented Gorbachev as a stealthy saboteur who got to execute an eccentric program, at the time, his support base was broad, and his decisions seemed encouraging and logical.

As a popular politician Gorbachev was reaching a crescendo. His trademark town hall and factory visits were as effective as any staged stunts, and much more unselfconscious. The contrast with the near-mummified bodies of the previous General Secretaries — who, in the mind of ordinary Soviet citizens, could only be pictured on top of Lenin’s Mausoleum during a military parade, or staring from a roadside placard, and forever urging greater productivity or more intense socialist values — was overwhelming.
Gorbachev was on top — but the tight structure of the Soviet state was about to loosen uncontrollably.

USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev in Sverdlovsk Region (25-28 April, 1990). Mikhail Gorbachev with the people of Sverdlovsk at the Lenin Square.
RIA Novosti.

USSR president Mikhail Gorbachev visits Sverdlovsk region. Mikhail Gorbachev visiting Nizhnij Tagil integrated iron-and-steel works named after V.I. Lenin.
RIA Novosti.CPSU Central Committee General Secretary, USSR Supreme Soviet Presidium Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev in the Ukrainian SSR. Mikhail Gorbachev, second right, meeting with Kiev residents.
RIA Novosti.

COLD WAR ENDS

Concessions from a genuine pacifist

In the late 1980s the world appeared so deeply divided into two camps that it seemed like two competing species were sharing the same planet. Conflicts arose constantly, as the US and the USSR fought proxy wars on every continent — in Nicaragua, Angola and Afghanistan, with Europe divided by a literal battle line, both sides constantly updated battle plans and moved tank divisions through allied states, where scores of bases housed soldier thousands of miles away from home. Since the Cold War did not end in nuclear holocaust, it has become conventional to describe the two superpowers as rivals, but there was little doubt at the time that they were straightforward enemies.

“The core of New Thinking is the admission of the primacy of universal human values and the priority of ensuring the survival of the human race,” Gorbachev wrote in his Perestroika manifesto in 1988.

At the legendary Reykjavik summit in 1986, which formally ended in failure but in fact set in motion the events that would end the Cold War, both sides were astonished at just how much they could agree on, suddenly flying through agendas, instead of fighting pitched battles over every point of the protocol.

“Humanity is in the same boat, and we can all either sink or swim.”

General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee Mikhail Gorbachev (left) and U.S. President Ronald Reagan (right) during their summit meeting in Reykjavik.
RIA Novosti.

Landmark treaties followed: the INF agreement in 1987, banning intermediate ballistic missiles, the CFE treaty that reduced the military build-up in Europe in 1990, and the following year, the START treaty, reducing the overall nuclear stockpile of those countries. The impact was as much symbolic as it was practical — the two could still annihilate each other within minutes — but the geopolitical tendency was clear.

President Reagan: Signing of the INF Treaty with Premier Gorbachev, December 8, 1987

Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the US president Ronald Reagan.
RIA Novosti.
Mikhail Gorbachev (left) and the US president Ronald Reagan signing an agreement in the White House. Mikhail Gorbachev, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on the official visit to the USA.
RIA Novosti.

Military analysts said that each time the USSR gave up more than it received from the Americans. The personal dynamic between Reagan — always lecturing “the Russians” from a position of purported moral superiority, and Gorbachev — the pacifist scrambling for a reasonable solution, was also skewed in favor of the US leader. But Gorbachev wasn’t playing by those rules.

“Any disarmament talks are not about beating the other side. Everyone has to win, or everyone will lose,” he wrote.

The Soviet Union began to withdraw its troops and military experts from conflicts around the world. For ten years a self-evidently unwinnable war waged in Afghanistan ingrained itself as an oppressive part of the national consciousness. Fifteen thousand Soviet soldiers died, hundreds of thousands more were wounded or psychologically traumatized (the stereotypical perception of the ‘Afghan vet’ in Russia is almost identical to that of the ‘Vietnam vet’ in the US.) When the war was officially declared a “mistake” and Soviet tanks finally rolled back across the mountainous border in 1989, very few lamented the scaling back of the USSR’s international ambitions.

Last Soviet troop column crosses Soviet border after leaving Afghanistan.
RIA Novosti.

Driver T. Eshkvatov during the final phase of the Soviet troop pullout from Afghanistan.
RIA Novosti.Soviet soldiers back on native soil. The USSR conducted a full pullout of its limited troop contingent from Afghanistan in compliance with the Geneva accords.
RIA Novosti.The convoy of Soviet armored personnel vehicles leaving Afghanistan.
RIA Novosti.

In July 1989 Gorbachev made a speech to the European Council, declaring that it is “the sovereign right of each people to choose their own social system.” When Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, soon to be executed by his own people, demanded — during the 40th anniversary of the Communist German Democratic Republic in October 1989 — that Gorbachev suppress the wave of uprisings, the Soviet leader replied with a curt “Never again!”

“Life punishes those who fall behind the times,” he warned the obdurate East German leader Erich Honecker. Honecker died in exile in Chile five years later, having spent his dying years fending off criminal charges backed by millions of angry Germans.

Russian tanks did pass through Eastern Europe that year — but in the other direction, as the Soviet Union abandoned its expensive bases that were primed for a war that neither side now wanted.

Graffitti at the Berlin Wall.
RIA Novosti.
East German citizens climb the Berlin Wall at the Brandenburg Gate after the opening of the border was announced early November 9, 1989. REUTERS/Herbert Knosowski BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE.
Reuters.
A big section of the Berlin Wall is lifted by a crane as East Germany has started to dismantle the wall near the Brandenburg Gate in East Berlin, February 20, 1990.
Reuters.

By the time the Berlin Wall was torn down in November, Gorbachev was reportedly not even woken up by his advisors, and no emergency meetings took place. There was no moral argument for why the German people should not be allowed to live as one nation, ending what Gorbachev himself called the “unnatural division of Europe”. The quote came from his 1990 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.

ETHNIC TENSIONS

Smoldering ethnic conflicts on USSR’s outskirts flare up

Ethnic tensions on the outskirts of the empire lead to full-scale wars after USSR’s collapse. Towards the end of his rather brief period as a Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev had to face a problem many thought of as done and dusted; namely, ethnic strife, leading to conflict and death.

By the mid-1980s, the Soviet Union was officially considered by party ideologists to be one multi-ethnic nation, despite it being comprised of 15 national republics and even more internal republics and regions, with dozens of ethnic groups living there in a motley mixture. The claim was not completely unfounded as the new generation all across the country spoke Russian and had basic knowledge of Russian culture along with Marxist philosophy. In fact, the outside world confirmed this unity by calling all Soviet citizens “Russians” — from Finno-Ugric Estonians in the West to the Turkic and Iranian peoples of Central Asia and natives of the Far East, closely related to the American Indians of Alaska.

Demonstration on Red Square. The International Labor Day. “Long live the brotherly friendship of the peoples of the USSR!” reads the slogan under the USSR national emblem surrounded by flags of 15 of the Union republics carried at a May Day demonstration in 1986.
RIA Novosti.

At the same time, the concept of the single people was enforced by purely Soviet methods — from silencing any existing problems in the party-controlled mass media, to ruthless suppression of any attempt of nationalist movements, and summary forced resettlement of whole peoples for “siding with the enemy” during WWII.

After Gorbachev announced the policies of Glasnost and democratization, many ethnic groups started to express nationalist sentiments. This was followed by the formation or legalization of nationalist movements, both in national republics and in Russia itself, where blackshirts from the “Memory” organization blamed Communists and Jews for oppressing ethnic Russians and promoted “liberation.”

Neither society nor law enforcers were prepared for such developments. The Soviet political system remained totalitarian and lacked any liberal argument against nationalism. Besides, the concept of “proletarian internationalism” was so heavily promoted that many people started to see nationalism as part of a struggle for political freedoms and market-driven economic prosperity. At the same time, the security services persisted in using the crude Soviet methods that had already been denounced by party leaders; police had neither the tools nor the experience for proper crowd control.

As a result, potential conflicts were brewing all across the country and the authorities did almost nothing to prevent them. In fact, many among the regional elites chose to ride the wave of nationalism to obtain more power and settle old accounts. At the same time, the level of nationalism was highly uneven and its manifestations differed both in frequency and intensity across the USSR.

In February 1988, Gorbachev announced at the Communist Party’s plenum that every socialist land was free to choose its own societal systems. Both Nationalists and the authorities considered this a go-ahead signal. Just days after the announcement, the conflict in the small mountain region of Nagorno-Karabakh entered an open phase.

Nagorno-Karabakh was an enclave populated mostly, but not exclusively, by Armenians in the Transcaucasia republic of Azerbaijan. Relations between Armenians and Azerbaijanis had always been strained, with mutual claims dating back to the Ottoman Empire; Soviet administrative policy based purely on geography and economy only made things worse.

In spring 1989, nationalists took to the streets in another Transcaucasian republic — Georgia. The country was (and still is) comprised of many ethnic groups, each claiming a separate territory, sometimes as small as just one hill and a couple of villages, and the rise of nationalism there was even more dangerous. Georgians marched under slogans “Down with Communism!” and “Down with Soviet Imperialism.” The rallies were guarded and directed by the “Georgian Falcons” — a special team of strong men, many of them veterans of the Afghan war, armed with truncheons and steel bars.

“Down with Communism!”

“Down with Soviet Imperialism.”

This time Gorbachev chose not to wait for clashes and a Spetsnaz regiment was deployed to Tbilisi to tackle the nationalist rallies. Again, old Soviet methods mixed poorly with the realities of democratization. When the demonstrators saw the soldiers, they became more agitated, and the streets around the main flashpoints were blocked by transport and barricades. The soldiers were ordered to use only rubber truncheons and tear gas, and were not issued firearms, but facing the Georgian Falcons they pulled out the Spetsnaz weapon of choice — sharp shovels just as deadly as bayonets.

At least 19 people were killed in the clashes or trampled by the crowd that was forced from the central square but had nowhere to go. Hundreds were wounded.

Soviet tanks are positioned on April 9, 1989 in front of the Georgian government building where pro-independence Georgians were killed as paratroopers moved in to break up a mass demonstration. An anti-Soviet demonstration was dispersed on April 9th by the Soviet army, resulting in 20 deaths and hundreds of injuries. In independent Georgia “April 9” is an annual public holiday remembered as the Day of National Unity.
AFP PHOTO.

Moscow ordered an investigation into the tragedy and a special commission uncovered many serious mistakes made both by the regional and central authorities and party leaders. However, at the May Congress of People’s Deputies, Gorbachev categorically refused to accept any responsibility for the outcome of the events in Tbilisi and blamed the casualties on the military.

Further on, the last Soviet leader persisted in the kind of stubbornness that inevitably must have played a part in his fall. In February 1990, the Communist Party’s Central Committee voted to adopt the presidential system of power and General Secretary Gorbachev became the first and last president of the USSR. The same plenum dismantled the Communist Party’s monopoly of power, even though the country had no grassroots political organizations or any political organizations not dependent on the communists save for the nationalists. As a result, the urge for succession increased rapidly, both in the regional republics and even in the Soviet heartland — the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.

In 1990, the Republic of Lithuania was the first to declare independence from the Soviet Union. Despite his earlier promises, Gorbachev refused to recognize this decision officially. The region found itself in legal and administrative limbo and the Lithuanian parliament addressed foreign nations with a request to hold protests against “Soviet Occupation.”

In January 1991, the Lithuanian government announced the start of economic reforms with liberalization of prices, and immediately after that the Supreme Soviet of the USSR sent troops to the republic, citing “numerous requests from the working class.” Gorbachev also demanded Lithuania annul all new regulations and bring back the Soviet Constitution. On January 11, Soviet troops captured many administrative buildings in Vilnius and other Lithuanian cities, but the parliament and television center were surrounded by a thousand-strong rally of protesters and remained in the hands of the nationalist government. In the evening of January 12, Soviet troops, together with the KGB special purpose unit, Alpha, stormed the Vilnius television center, killing 12 defenders and wounding about 140 more. The troops were then called back to Russia and the Lithuanian struggle for independence continued as before.

A Lithuanian demonstrator stands in front of a Soviet Army tank during the assault on the Lithuanian Radio and Television station on January 13, 1991 in Vilnius.
AFP PHOTO.

Vilnius residents gather in front of the Lithuanian parliament following the takeover of the Radio and Television installations by Soviet troops.
AFP PHOTO.An armed unidentified man guards the Lithuanian parliament on January 19, 1991 in Vilnius.
AFP PHOTO.Vilnius residents holding a Lithuanian flag guard a barricade in front of the Lithuanian parliament on January 20, 1991.
AFP PHOTO.Soviet paratroopers charge Lithuanian demonstrators at the entrance of the Lithuanian press printing house in Vilnius. January, 1991.
AFP PHOTO.

Gorbachev again denied any responsibility, saying that he had received reports about the operation only after it ended. However, almost all members of the contemporary Soviet cabinet recalled that the idea of Gorbachev not being aware of such a major operation was laughable. Trying to shift the blame put the president’s image into a lose-lose situation — knowing about the Vilnius fighting made him a callous liar, and if he really knew nothing about it, then he was an ineffective leader, losing control both of distant territories and his own special forces.

The swiftly aborted intervention — troops were called back on the same day — was a disappointment both to the hardliners, who would have wanted Gorbachev to see it through, and to the democratic reformers, horrified by the scenes emerging from Vilnius.

This dissatisfaction also must be one of the main factors that provoked the so-called Putch in August 1991 — an attempt by die-hard Politburo members to displace Gorbachev and restore the old Soviet order. They failed in the latter, but succeeded in the former as Gorbachev, isolated at his government Dacha in Crimea, returned to Moscow only because of the struggles of the new Russian leader Boris Yeltsin. When Gorbachev returned, his power was so diminished that he could do nothing to prevent the Belovezha agreement — the pact between Russia, Belarus and Ukraine that ended the history of the Soviet Union and introduced the Commonwealth of Independent States. All republics became independent whether they were ready to or not.

This move, while granting people freedom from Soviet rule, also triggered a sharp rise in extreme nationalist activities — the stakes were high enough and whole nations were up for grabs. Also, in the three years between Gorbachev’s offering of freedom and the collapse of the USSR, nothing was done to calm simmering ethnic hatred, and with no directions from Moscow or control on the part of the Soviet police and army, many regions became engulfed in full-scale civil wars, based on ethnic grounds.

Things turned especially nasty in Tajikistan, where fighting between Iranian-speaking Tajiks and Turkic-speaking Uzbeks very soon led to ethnic cleansing. Refugees had to flee for their lives to Afghanistan, which itself witnessed a war between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance.

Government soldiers aim at positions of armed opposition groups in the border area of Afghanistan 08 June 1993. The civil war between pro-communist forces and the opposition has left thousands dead and turned hundreds of thousands of people into refugees in the last year.
AFP PHOTO.

Two fighters of the Tajik pro-Communist forces engage in a battle with pro-Islamic fighters 22 December 1992 in a village some 31 miles from the Tajik capital of Dushanbe.
AFP PHOTO.Tajik women cry over the dead body of a soldier 29 January 1993. The soldier was killed during fighting between Tajikistan government troops and opposition forces in Parkhar.
AFP PHOTO.

The long and bloody war in Georgia also had a significant ethnic component. After it ended three regions that were part of the republic during Soviet times — Abkhazia, Adzharia and South Ossetia – declared independence, which was enforced by a CIS peacekeeping force. At some point, Georgia managed to return Adzharia but when Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, backed and armed by Western nations, attempted to capture South Ossetia in 2008, Russia had to intervene and repel the aggression. Subsequently, Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations.

YELTSIN’S CHALLENGE

New star steals limelight

As Stalin and Trotsky, or Tony Blair and Gordon Brown could attest, your own archrival in politics is often on your team, pursuing broadly similar — but not identical aims — and hankering for the top seat.

But unlike those rivalries, the scenes in the fallout between Mikhail Gorbachev, and his successor, Boris Yeltsin played out not through backroom deals and media leaks, but in the form of an epic drama in front of a live audience of thousands, and millions sat in front of their televisions.

The two leaders were born a month apart in 1931, and followed broadly similar paths of reformist regional commissars – while Gorbachev controlled the agricultural Stavropol, Yeltsin attempted to revitalize the industrial region of Sverdlovsk, present-day Yekaterinburg.

Yet, Yeltsin was a definitely two steps behind Gorbachev on the Soviet career ladder, and without his leg-up might have never made it to Moscow at all. A beneficiary of the new leader’s clear out, though not his personal protégé, Yeltsin was called up to Moscow in 1985, and the following year, was assigned the post of First Secretary of the Moscow Communist Party, effectively becoming the mayor of the capital.

Yeltsin’s style dovetailed perfectly with the new agenda, and his superior’s personal style, though his personal relationship with Gorbachev was strained almost from the start. Breaking off from official tours of factories, the city administrator would pay surprise visits to queue-plagued and under-stocked stores (and the warehouses where the consumables were put aside for the elites); occasionally abandoning his bulletproof ZIL limo, Yeltsin would ride on public transport. This might appear like glib populism now, but at the time was uncynically welcomed. In the first few months in the job, the provincial leader endeared himself to Muscovites — his single most important power base in the struggles that came, and a guarantee that he would not be forgotten whatever ritual punishments were cast down by the apex of the Communist Party.

Boris Yeltsin, First Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party’s Moscow City Committee, at the official meeting celebrating the 70th anniversary of the October revolution.
RIA Novosti.

Boris Yeltsin, left, candidate member of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee, at lunch.
RIA Novosti.Voters’ meeting with candidate for deputy of the Moscow Soviet in the 161st constituency, First Secretary of the CPSU Moscow Town Committee, Chairman of the USSR Supreme Soviet, Boris Yeltsin, centre.
RIA Novosti.People’s deputy Boris Yeltsin. Algirdas Brazauskas (right) and chairman of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Council Mikhail Gorbachev on the presidium.
RIA Novosti.

But Yeltsin was not just a demagogue content with cosmetic changes and easy popularity, and after months of increasing criticism of the higher-ups, he struck.

During a public session of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in October 1987, the newcomer delivered a landmark speech.

In front of a transfixed hall, he told the country’s leaders that they were putting road blocks on the road to Perestroika, he accused senior ministers of becoming “sycophantic” towards Gorbachev. As his final flourish, Yeltsin withdrew himself from his post as a candidate to the Politburo — an unprecedented move that amounted to contempt towards the most senior Soviet institution.

The speech, which he later said he wrote “on his lap” while sitting in the audience just a few hours earlier, was Yeltsin in a nutshell. Unafraid to challenge authority and to risk everything, with a flair for the dramatic, impulsive and unexpected decision (his resignation as Russian president in his New Year’s speech being the most famous).

Footage shows Gorbachev looking on bemused from above. He did not publicly criticize Yeltsin there and then, and spoke empathetically about Yeltsin’s concerns, but later that day (with his backing) the Central Committee declared Yeltsin’s address “politically misguided”, a slippery Soviet euphemism that cast Yeltsin out into the political wilderness.

Gorbachev thought he had won the round — “I won’t allow Yeltsin anywhere near politics again” he vowed, his pique shining through — but from then on, their historical roles and images were cast.

Gorbachev, for all of his reforms, now became the tame, prissy socialist. Yeltsin, the careerist who nearly had it all, and renounced everything he had achieved at the age of 54 and re-evaluated all he believed in. Gorbachev, the Politburo chief who hid behind the silent majority, Yeltsin the rebel who stood up to it. Gorbachev, the politician who spoke a lot and often said nothing, Yeltsin, the man of action.

Historically, the contrast may seem unfair, as both were equally important historical figures, who had a revolutionary impact for their time. But stood side-by-side, Yeltsin — with his regal bearing and forceful charisma — not only took the baton of Perestroika’s promises, but stole the man-of-the-future aura that had hitherto belonged to Gorbachev, who now seemed fidgety and weaselly by comparison.

While he was stripped of his Moscow role, Yeltsin’s party status was preserved. This had a perverse effect. No one stopped Yeltsin from attending high-profile congresses. No one prevented him from speaking at them. It was the perfect situation — he had the platform of an insider, and the kudos of an outsider. Tens of deputies would come and criticize the upstart, and then he’d take the stage, Boris Yeltsin vs. The Machine.

On June 12, 1990 Russia declared sovereignty from the USSR. A month later, Yeltsin staged another one of his dramatic masterclasses, when he quit the Communist Party on-stage during its last ever national congress, and walked out of the cavernous hall with his head held high, as loyal deputies jeered him.

In June 1991, after calling a snap election, Yeltsin became the first President of Russia, winning 57 percent — or more than 45 million votes. The Party’s candidate garnered less than a third of Yeltsin’s tally.

By this time Gorbachev’s position had become desperate. The Soviet Union was being hollowed out, and Yeltsin and the other regional leaders were now actively colluding with each other, signing agreements that bypassed the Kremlin.

The Communists and nationalists — often one and the same — had once been ambivalent about Gorbachev’s reforms, and anyway had been loath to criticize their leader. But inspired by Gorbachev’s glasnost, and with the USSR’s long term prospects becoming very clear, they now wanted their say as well. A reactionary media backlash started against him, generals pronounced warnings of “social unrest” that sounded more like threats, and some had begun to go as far as to earnestly speculate that Gorbachev was working for the Cold War “enemy.”

USSR IMPLODES

Failed coup brings down faded leader of fractured country

The junta that tried to take power in the Soviet Union on the night of August 18th is one of the most inept in the history of palace coups.

On August 18, all phones at Gorbachev’s residence, including the one used to control the USSR’s nuclear arsenal, were suddenly cut off, while unbeknownst to him, a KGB regiment was surrounding the house. Half an hour later a delegation of top officials arrived at the residence in Foros, Crimea, walked past his family to his office, in their briefcases a selection of documents for Gorbachev to sign. In one scenario, he would simply declare a state of emergency, and proclaim control over all the rebel republics, in another he would hand over power to his deputy Gennady Yanaev, due to worsening health.

Genuinely angry at their disloyalty, the Soviet leader called them “chancers”, and refused to sign anything, saying he would not have blood on his hands. He then showed them out of the house with a lengthy tirade — clearly recollected by all present in their memoirs — in which he crowned the plotters a “bunch of cocks.”

The plotters were not prepared for this turn of events. Gathering once again back in Moscow, they sat around looking at their unsigned emergency decree, arguing and not daring to put their names on the typewritten document. As midnight passed, and more and more bottles of whisky, imported from the decadent West they were saving the USSR from, was brought in, the patriots found their courage, or at least persuaded Yanaev to place himself at the top of the list of signatories. The Gang of Eight would be known as the State Committee on the State of Emergency. Accounts say that by the time they were driven to their dachas — hours before the most important day of their lives — the plotters could barely stand. Valentin Pavlov, he of the unpopular monetary reform, and the prime minister, drank so much he had to be treated for acute alcohol intoxication, and was hospitalized with cardiac problems as the events of the next three days unfolded.

But orders were issued, and on the morning of the 19th tanks rolled into Moscow. While news suggested that nothing had gone wrong — and at this point it hadn’t — the junta made it seem as if everything had. Not only were there soldiers on street, but all TV channels were switched off, with Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake iconically played on repeat. By four o’clock in the afternoon, most of the relatively independent media was outlawed by a decree.

But for all their heavy-handed touch the putsch leaders did nothing to stop their real nemesis. Unlike most coups, which are a two-way affair, this was a triangular power struggle – between Gorbachev, the reactionaries, and Yeltsin. Perhaps, like Gorbachev, stuck in their mindset of backroom intrigue the plotters seemed to underrate Yeltsin, and the resources at his disposal.

Russia’s next leader had arrived in Moscow from talks with his Kazakhstan counterpart, allegedly in the same merry state as the self-appointed plotters. But when his daughter woke him up with news of the unusual cross-channel broadcasting schedule, he acted fast, and took his car straight to the center of Moscow. The special forces soldiers placed around his dacha by the conspirators were not ordered to shoot or detain him.

Yeltsin’s supporters first gathered just a few hundred yards from the Kremlin walls, and then on instruction marched through the empty city to the White House building, the home of the rebellious Russian parliament. There, in his defining moment and as the crowd (although at this early hour it was actually thinner than the mythology suggests) chanted his name, Yeltsin climbed onto the tank, reclaimed from the government forces, and loudly, without the help of a microphone, denounced the events of the past hours as a “reactionary coup.” In the next few hours, people from across Moscow arrived, as the crowd swelled to 70,000. A human chain formed around the building, and volunteers began to build barricades from trolleybuses and benches from nearby parks.

Military hardware in Kalininsky prospect after imposition of a state of emergency in August 1991.
RIA Novosti.
Muscovites block the way for military weaponry during the GKChP coup.
RIA Novosti.

Moscow residents building barricades next to the Supreme Soviet during the coup by the State EmergencyCommittee.
RIA Novosti.Thousands of people rallying before the Supreme Soviet of Russia on August 20, 1991.
RIA Novosti.

Though this seemed as much symbolic, as anything, as the elite units sent in by the junta had no intention of shooting, and demonstrated their neutrality, freely mingling with the protesters. Their commander, Pavel Grachev, defected to Yeltsin the following day, and was later rewarded with the defense minister’s seat. The Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov also supported Yeltsin.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin waves from the balcony of the Russian Parliament to a crowd of demonstrators protesting against the overthrow of Soviet President Gorbachev during the brief coup in August 1991, in Moscow August 20, 1991. The result, ironically, was the dissolution of the Soviet Union. REUTERS/Michael Samojeden IMAGE TAKEN AUGUST 20, 1991.
Reuters.

Realizing that their media blackout was not working, and that they were quickly losing initiative, the plotters went to the other extreme, and staged an unmoderated televised press conference.

Sat in a row, the anonymous, ashen-faced men looked every bit the junta. While Yanaev was the nominal leader, he was never the true engine of the coup, which was largely orchestrated by Vladimir Kryuchkov, the KGB chief, who, with the natural caution of a security agent, did not want to take center stage. The acting president, meanwhile, did not look the part. His voice was tired and unsure, his hands shaking — another essential memory of August 1991.

From left: the USSR Interior Minister Boris Pugo and the USSR Vice-President Gennady Yanayev during the press conference of the members of the State Committee for the State of Emergency (GKCP).
RIA Novosti.
From left: Alexander Tizyakov, Vasily Starodubtsev, Boris Pugo, Gennady Yanayev, and Oleg Baklanov during the press conference of the State of Emergency State Committee (GKCP) members at the USSR Foreign Ministry.
RIA Novosti.

In another spectacularly poor piece of communications management, after the new leaders made their speeches, they opened the floor to an immediately hostile press pack, which openly quoted Yeltsin’s words accusing them of overthrowing a legitimate government on live television.

Referring to Gorbachev as “my friend Mikhail Sergeevich,” Yanaev monotoned that the president was “resting and taking a holiday in Crimea. He has grown very weary over these last few years and needs some time to get his health back.” With tanks standing outside proceedings were quickly declining into a lethargic farce in front of the whole country.

Over the next two days there was international condemnation (though Muammar Gaddafi, Saddam Hussein and Yasser Arafat supported the coup) the deaths of three pro-Yeltsin activists, and an order by the junta to re-take the White House at all costs, canceled at the last minute. But by then the fate of the putsch had already been set in motion.

Meanwhile, as the most dramatic events in Russia since 1917 were unfolding in Moscow, Gorbachev carried on going for dips in the Black Sea, and watching TV with his family. On the first night of the coup, wearing a cardigan not fit for an nationwide audience, he recorded an uncharacteristically meek address to the nation on a household camera, saying that he had been deposed. He did not appear to make any attempt to get the video out of Foros, and when it was broadcast the following week, it incited reactions from ridicule, to suspicions that he was acting in cahoots with the plotters, or at least waiting out the power struggle in Moscow. Gorbachev likely was not, but neither did he appear to exhibit the personal courage of Yeltsin, who came out and addressed crowds repeatedly when a shot from just one government sniper would have been enough to end his life.

On the evening of August 21, with the coup having evidently failed, two planes set out for Crimea almost simultaneously from Moscow. In the first were the members of the junta, all rehearsing their penances, in the other, members of Yeltsin’s team, with an armed unit to rescue Gorbachev, who, for all they knew, may have been in personal danger. When the putschists reached Foros, Gorbachev refused to receive them, and demanded that they restore communications. He then phoned Moscow, Washington and Paris, voiding the junta’s decrees, and repeating the simple message: “I have the situation under control.”

But he did not. Gorbachev’s irrelevance over the three days of the putsch was a metaphor for his superfluousness in Russia’s political life in the previous months, and from that moment onward. Although the putschists did not succeed, a power transfer did happen, and Gorbachev still lost. For three days, deference to his formal institutions of power was abandoned, and yet the world did not collapse, so there was no longer need for his dithering mediation.

Gingerly walking down the steps of the airstair upon landing in Moscow, blinking in front of the cameras, Mikhail Gorbachev was the lamest of lame duck leaders. He gave a press conference discussing the future direction of the Communist Party, and inner reshuffles that were to come, sounding not just out-of-touch, but borderline delusional.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev addresses the Extraordinary meeting of the Supreme Soviet of Russian Federation in Moscow in this August 23, 1991 file photo.
Reuters.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev touch hands during Gorbachev’s address to the Extraordinary meeting of the Supreme Soviet of Russian Federation in Moscow, August 23, 1991. REUTERS/Gennady Galperin (RUSSIA).
Reuters.

Gorbachev resigned as the President of the Soviet Union on December 25, 1991.

“The policy prevailed of dismembering this country and disuniting the state, which is something I cannot subscribe to,” he lamented, before launching into an examination of his six years in charge.

“Even now, I am convinced that the democratic reform that we launched in the spring of 1985 was historically correct. The process of renovating this country and bringing about drastic change in the international community has proven to be much more complicated than anyone could imagine.”

“However, let us give its due to what has been done so far. This society has acquired freedom. It has been freed politically and spiritually, and this is the most important achievement that we have yet fully come to grips with.”

AFTERMATH

Praised in West, scorned at home

“Because of him, we have economic confusion!”

“Because of him, we have opportunity!”

“Because of him, we have political instability!”

“Because of him, we have freedom!”

“Complete chaos!”

“Hope!”

“Political instability!”

“Because of him, we have many things like Pizza Hut!”

Thus ran the script to the 1997 advert that saw a tableful of men argue loudly over the outcome of Perestroika in a newly-opened Moscow restaurant, a few meters from an awkward Gorbachev, staring into space as he munches his food alongside his 10 year-old granddaughter. The TV spot ends with the entire clientele of the restaurant getting up to their feet, and chanting “Hail to Gorbachev!” while toasting the former leader with pizza slices heaving with radiant, viscous cheese.

The whole scene is a travesty of the momentous transformations played out less than a decade earlier, made crueler by contemporary surveys among Russians that rated Gorbachev as the least popular leader in the country’s history, below Stalin and Ivan the Terrible.

The moment remains the perfect encapsulation of Gorbachev’s post-resignation career.

To his critics, many Russians among them, he was one of the most powerful men in the world reduced to exploiting his family in order to hawk crust-free pizzas for a chain restaurant — an American one at that — a personal and national humiliation, and a reminder of his treason. For the former Communist leader himself it was nothing of the sort. A good-humored Gorbachev said the half-afternoon shoot was simply a treat for his family, and the self-described “eye-watering” financial reward — donated entirely to his foundation — money that would be used to go to charity.

As for the impact of Gorbachev’s career in advertising on Russia’s reputation… In a country where a decade before the very existence of a Pizza Hut near Red Square seemed unimaginable, so much had changed, it seemed a perversely logical, if not dignified, way to complete the circle. In the years after Gorbachev’s forced retirement there had been an attempted government overthrow that ended with the bombardment of parliament, privatization, the first Chechen War, a drunk Yeltsin conducting a German orchestra and snatching an improbable victory from revanchist Communists two years later, and an impending default.

Although he did get 0.5 percent of the popular vote during an aborted political comeback that climaxed in the 1996 presidential election, Gorbachev had nothing at all to do with these life-changing events. And unlike Nikita Khrushchev, who suffered greater disgrace, only to have his torch picked up, Gorbachev’s circumstances were too specific to breed a political legacy. More than that, his reputation as a bucolic bumbler and flibbertigibbet, which began to take seed during his final years in power, now almost entirely overshadowed his proven skill as a political operator, other than for those who bitterly resented the events he helped set in motion.

Other than in his visceral dislike of Boris Yeltsin — the two men never spoke after December 1991 — if Gorbachev was bitter about the lack of respect afforded to him at home, he wore it lightly. Abroad, he reveled in his statesmanlike aura, receiving numerous awards, and being the centerpiece at star-studded galas. Yet, for a man of his ambition, being pushed into retirement must have gnawed at him repeatedly.

After eventually finding a degree of financial and personal stability on the lecture circuit in the late 1990s, Gorbachev was struck with another blow — the rapid death of Raisa from cancer.

A diabetic, Gorbachev became immobile and heavy-set, a pallor fading even his famous birthmark. But his voice retained its vigor (and accent) and the former leader continued to proffer freely his loquacious opinions on politics, to widespread indifference.

Gorbachev’s legacy is at the same time unambiguous, and deeply mixed — more so than the vast majority of political figures. His decisions and private conversations were meticulously recorded and verified. His motivations always appeared transparent. His mistakes and achievements formed patterns that repeated themselves through decades.

Yet for all that clarity, the impact of his decisions, the weight given to his feats and failures can be debated endlessly, and has become a fundamental question for Russians.

Less than three decades after his limo left the Kremlin, his history has been rewritten several times, and his role bent to the needs of politicians and prevailing social mores. This will likely continue. Those who believe in the power of the state, both nationalists and Communists, will continue to view his time as egregious at best, seditious at worst. For them, Gorbachev is inextricably linked with loss — the forfeiture of Moscow’s international standing, territory and influence. The destruction of the fearsome and unique Soviet machine that set Russia on a halting course as a middle-income country with a residual seat in the UN Security Council trying to gain acceptance in a US-molded world.

Others, who appreciate a commitment to pacifism and democracy, idealism and equality, will also find much to admire in Gorbachev, even though he could not always be his best self. Those who place greater value on the individual than the state, on freedom than on military might, those who believe that the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the totalitarian Soviet Union was a landmark achievement not a failure will be grateful, and if not sympathetic. For one man’s failure can produce a better outcome than another’s success.

RAISA

Passion and power

The history of rulers is littered with tales of devoted wives and ambitious women pulling strings from behind the throne, and Raisa was often painted as both. But unlike many storybook partnerships, where the narrative covers up the nuances, the partnership between Mikhail and Raisa was absolutely authentic, and genuinely formidable. Perhaps the key to Mikhail’s lifelong commitment, and even open deference to his wife, atypical for a man of his generation, lay in their courtship.

Raisa Gorbacheva, wife of the General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee and Chairman of the USSR Supreme Soviet Mikhail Gorbachev, in Paris during their official visit to France. Ria Novosti.

In his autobiography, Gorbachev recollects with painful clarity, how his first meeting with Raisa, on the dance floor of a university club, “aroused no emotion in her whatsoever.” Yet Gorbachev was smitten with the high cheek-boned fellow over-achiever immediately, calling her for awkward dorm-room group chats that went nowhere, and seeking out attempts.

— Raisa Gorbacheva
“We were happy then. We were happy because of our young age, because of the hopes for the future and just because of the fact that we lived and studied at the university. We appreciated that.”

It was several months before she agreed to even go for a walk through Moscow with the future Soviet leader, and then months of fruitless promenades, discussing exams at their parallel faculties. With candor, Gorbachev admits that she only agreed to date him after “having her heart broken by the man she had pledged it to.” But once their relationship overcame its shaky beginnings, the two became the very definition of a Soviet power couple, in love and ready to do anything for each other. In the summer vacation after the two began to go steady, Gorbachev did not think it below him to return to his homeland, and resume work as a simple mechanic, to top up the meager university stipend.

The two were not embarrassed having to celebrate their wedding in a university canteen, symbolically, on the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution on November 7, 1953. Or put off when the watchful guardians of morality at Moscow State University forbid the newlyweds from visiting each other’s halls without a specially signed pass. More substantial obstacles followed, when Mikhail’s mother also did not take to her daughter-in-law, while Raisa agreed to a medically-advised abortion after becoming pregnant following a heavy bout of rheumatism. But the two persevered. Raisa gave birth to their only child in 1955, and as Gorbachev’s star rose, so did his wife’s academic career as a sociologist. But Raisa’s true stardom came when Gorbachev occupied the Soviet leader’s post.

Soviet President and General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party’s Central Committee, Mikhail Gorbachev, 2nd right, and Soviet First Lady Raisa Gorbacheva, right, at the meeting with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, left, at the Soviet Embassy in London.
RIA Novosti.

Raisa Gorbacheva, the wife of the Soviet leader (left), showing Nancy Reagan, first lady of the U.S., around the Kremlin during U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s official visit to the U.S.S.R.
RIA Novosti.General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee Mikhail Gorbachev (center left) and his spouse Raisa Gorbacheva (second from left) seeing off US President Ronald Reagan after his visit to the USSR. Right: The spouse of US president Nancy Reagan. The Hall of St. George in the Grand Kremlin Palace.
RIA Novosti.Raisa Gorbacheva (left), wife of the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, and Barbara Bush (right), wife of the U.S. president, attending the inauguration of the sculptured composition Make Way for Ducklings near the Novodevichy Convent during U.S. President George Bush’s official visit to the U.S.S.R.
RIA Novosti.Soviet first lady Raisa Gorbacheva meets with Tokyo residents during Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachyov’s official visit to Japan.
RIA Novosti.The meeting between Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, President of the USSR and the heads of state and government of the seven leading industrial nations. From left to right: Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, Norma Major, Raisa Maksimovna Gorbacheva and John Major.
RIA Novosti.Soviet president’s wife Raisa Gorbacheva at the 112th commencement at a female college. The State of Massachusetts. Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev’s state visit to the United States.
RIA Novosti.

In a symbol as powerful as his calls for international peace and reform at home, the Communist leader was not married to a matron hidden at home, but to an urbane, elegantly-dressed woman, regarded by many as an intellectual equal, if not superior to Mikhail himself. Gorbachev consulted his wife in every decision, as he famously told American TV viewers during a Tom Brokaw interview. This generated much ill-natured mockery throughout Gorbachev’s reign, but he never once tried to push his wife out of the limelight, where she forged friendships with such prominent figures as Margaret Thatcher, Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush.

Raisa was there in the Crimean villa at Foros, during the attempted putsch of August 1991, confronting the men who betrayed her husband personally, and suffering a stroke as a result. It was also Raisa by Gorbachev’s side when they were left alone, after the whirlwind settled in 1991. Despite nearly losing her eyesight due to her stroke, Raisa largely took the lead in organizing Mikhail’s foundation, and in structuring his life. In 1999, with his own affairs in order, not least because of the controversial Pizza Hut commercial, and Russians anger much more focused on his ailing successor, Gorbachev thought he could enjoy a more contented retirement, traveling the world with his beloved.

CPSU Central Committee General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife Raisa at Orly Airport, France.
RIA Novosti.

Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev (center), Soviet first lady Raisa Gorbacheva (right), Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Kazakh first lady Sara Nazarbayeva during Gorbachev’s working visit to Kazakhstan.
RIA Novosti.General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee Mikhail Gorbachev (left) and his spouse Raisa Gorbachev (center) at a friendship meeting in the Wawel Castle during a visit to Poland.
RIA Novosti.Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife Raisa during his official visit to China.
RIA Novosti.An official visit to Japan by USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev. He with wife, Raisa Gorbachev, and Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu near a tree planted in the garden of Akasaka Palace.
RIA Novosti.Mikhail Gorbachev (center), daughter Irina (right) and his wife’s sister Lyudmila (left) at the funeral of Raisa Gorbachev.
RIA Novosti.Last respects for Raisa Gorbacheva, spouse of the former the USSR president in the Russian Fond of Culture. Mikhail Gorbachev, family and close people of Raisa Gorbacheva at her coffin.
RIA Novosti.Mikhail Gorbachev at the opening of the Raisa exhibition in memory of Raisa Gorbacheva.
RIA Novosti.

— Raisa Gorbacheva
“It is possible that I had to get such a serious illness and die for the people to understand me.”

Then came the leukemia diagnosis, in June of that year. Before the couple’s close family had the chance to adjust to the painful rhythm of hope and fear that accompanies the treatment of cancer, Raisa was dead. Her burial unleashed an outpouring of emotion, with thousands, including many of her husband’s numerous adversaries, gathering to pay their sincere respects. No longer the designer-dressed careerist ice queen to be envied, resented and ridiculed, now people saw Raisa for the charismatic and shrewd idealist she always was. For Gorbachev it made little difference, and all those around him said that however much activity he tried to engage in following his wife’s death, none of it ever had quite the same purpose.

“People say time heals. But it never stops hurting – we were to be joined until death,” Gorbachev always said in interviews

For the tenth anniversary of Raisa’s death, in 2009, Mikhail Gorbachev teamed up with famous Russian musician Andrey Makerevich to record a charity album of Russian standards, dedicated to his beloved wife. The standout track was Old Letters, a 1940s melancholy ballad. Gorbachev said that it came to him in 1991 when he discovered Raisa burning their student correspondence and crying, after she found out that their love letters had been rifled through by secret service agents during the failed coup.

The limited edition LP sold at a charity auction in London, and fetched £100,000.

Afterwards, Gorbachev got up on the stage to sing Old Letters, but half way through he choked up, and had to leave the stage to thunderous applause.

A Strange Thing Happened … with the development of a New Order

August 15, 2022

Source

By Francis Lee

‘’The best-known definition of financialization is that it involves the increasing role of financial motives, financial markets, financial actors, and financial institutions in the operation of domestic and international economies.’’ (1)

A picture containing indoor, floor, ceiling, metal Description automatically generated

In this dungeon – All that glitters is gold. Bank of England Gold Vault

The massive shift in the global system of industry and finance which had been based upon the Bretton Woods institutions – viz., the IMF (International Monetary Fund) the World Bank (previously known as the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the International Development Agency) which carried on regardless at the ending of the gold standard in 1971. Both the World Bank and IMF were based in Washington. Additionally, another Bretton Woods Institution – The General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, was to become the World Trade Organization (WTO) in January 1995.

It was generally understood by all the actors that the objective was for firms to engage in the economy in order to produce goods and services with a view to further investment, growth, and profitability. This was the consensus of the time and raison d’etre of capitalism. However, this political unanimity began to change, quite fundamentally.

The massive shift as mentioned above was a step toward delinking the US$ with gold, when the US government guaranteed to exchange US$ for gold at the fixed rate of $35 per ounce. This effectively placed all the world’s currencies onto a gold standard backed by the US gold at Fort Knox. Many governments came to accept US$ as gold deposit certificates and chose to hold their international foreign exchange reserves in dollars rather than in gold.

The system worked reasonably well for more than 20 years until it became widely evident that the United States was creating far more dollars to finance its heavy military operations, firstly in Korea and then Indochina, and this combined with the domestic social spending which were part of Johnson’s Democratic party enmeshed in the ‘Great Society’ monetary splurge. What happened next was entirely predictable. Overseas holders of US$ began to take their dollars to the Fed’s bank window, but the Fed could not give them anything in return other than US Treasuries which are just a form of paper money! It was a French politician, Valery Giscard D’Estaing, who drew attention to this American ‘exorbitant privilege’. Pretty soon all the gold was beginning to fly out of Fort Knox to Europe and the Far East. The US government had to do something in order to stem the outward flow. On August 15, 1971, President Richard Nixon declared that the US would no longer redeem dollars on demand for gold. The dollar was ultimately nothing other than a piece of high-grade paper with a number and some intricate artwork issued by the US government. The world’s currencies were no longer linked to anything of real value and shared expectations that others would accept them in exchange for real goods and services.

It was a fantastic (and lucky) stroke for the Americans to pull this off. But this financial coup seemed like the opening shot in a long goodbye to the existing economic and political order. A strange thing was happening indeed. In the words of the Irish poet, W.B.Yeats, ‘All changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty is born.’ From the poem, ‘Easter 1916.’

A Terrible Beauty

Capitalism was clearly morphing into a different animal with a new financial-economic structure which emerged from the old-style capitalist mode; the old order of production and consumption in a traditional capitalist economy which was occasioned by the production of tangible wealth, as opposed extractive or more tangibly extracted ‘wealth’. Businesses once focused almost exclusively on producing the goods and services for which they had a competitive advantage, but in the economic conditions of the present time they became likely as much if not focused more on their share price, their dividends regime, and in addition, to their interest rates.

A new class and a new system were clearly emerging, if not actually fully emerged. At the present time a tiny minority of people and corporate interests across the world are accumulating vast wealth and power from rental income not only from housing and land but from a range of other assets natural and created. Rentiers of all kinds are an unparalleled ascendancy, and the neo-liberal state is only too keen to oblige their greed.

The rentier class derive their income from ownership or control of assets that are scarce or artificially made scarce. Most familiar is rental income from land, property, mineral exploitation, or financial investments, but other sources have grown, pari passu. These include the income lenders again from debt interest; income from ownership of ‘intellectual property’ (patents, copyrights, brands, and trademarks); capital gains from investments, ‘above normal’ company profits (when a firm has a dominant market position that allows it to charge higher prices or dictate terms); income from government subsidies; and income from financial and other intermediaries derived from third party transactions. A political and economic structure began to emerge in the 1980’s. Once more quoting Yeats, ‘All has changed, changed utterly. A Terrible beauty is born.’ That terrible beauty is Neoliberalism. (2)

‘’Today’s corporations have become thoroughly financialized, with some looking more like banks than productive enterprises. This financialization of non-financial corporations has involved the transfer of societies resources from the employees to the share/stock’s shareholders. This transfer of wealth has resulted both from changes in the political and economic foundations of the global economy from the rise of a new ideology, which holds that corporations sole aim should be to maximize profitability via increasing returns to shareholders. Both ideas and power relations have to change to create any lasting economic change – and the 1980s was a period of transition of both.’’ (3)

Yes, those old enough of us who can remember the 1980s, a strange period of counter-revolution and – die Zeitgeist – yuppies, private equity, Thatcher and Reagan, The Big Bang, The Eurodollar market, Milton Friedman, and the Chicago School of Economics, ‘Greed is Good.’ Privatisation was all the rage. Heady stuff, but like all similar periods of ersatz golden ages the recent versions have crashed into the truths of economic realities. Like, you don’t get something for nothing, or booms lead to busts, or asset price inflation is not the same as growth. In order however … ‘’to maintain the semblance of vitality, western capitalism has become increasingly dependent on expanding levels of debt and of the expansion of the level of fictitious capital. This latter category is made up of financial assets which are only symbols of value, not real values.’’ (4)

Yes, indeed, company shares-stocks that are traded like goods and services do not in the same way embody value. They are tokens which represent part ownership of a company and the potential distribution of future profits in the form of dividends. The paper or electronic certificate itself is not a genuine value that can create more value. Rising share/stock prices are often presented as evidence of a healthy economy, but the amount money a share/stock charges hands says nothing definitive about the value of the company’s assets or about its productive capacity. On the contrary, it is when real capital stagnates that the amount of fictitious capital tends to expand.

The years roughly between the late 1970s to the present economic impasse have been unprecedented since the emerging and increasing instability of the present debacle of the 2020s. Prior to this each successive wave of crises followed a wave of credit bubbles, when the indebtedness of similarly placed group and groups of borrowers increased at a two of three times higher than the interest rate for three, four or more years which produced a series of credit bubbles in addition. These historical blow-outs have in fact become even more intractable and destructive with the passing of time. Something seems seriously amiss with the system’s dysfunctionalities which have become quite visibly failing. The economic situation in a country after several years of bubble-like behaviour resembles that of a young person on a bicycle – the rider needs to maintain the forward momentum of the bicycle, or it will become unstable. During the initial mania, asset prices will decline immediately after they stop increasing – there is no plateau or middle ground. The decline in the prices of some assets leads to a concern that asset prices will decline further and that the financial system will experience distress. The rush to sell these assets becomes self-fulfilling and so precipitous that it resembles a panic. The prices of commodities – houses, buildings, land, shares/stocks bonds – crash to levels that are just 30 or 40 percent of their prices at the peak. Bankruptcies surge, economic activity slows, and unemployment increases.

The features of these manias are never identical and yet there is a similar pattern. The increase in the prices of real estate and commodities or stocks is associated with euphoria; household wealth increases as does spending. There is a sense of ‘we have never had it so good.’ Then the asset prices peak and then begin to decline. The following implosion of the bubble leads to a decline in the prices of commodities, stocks, and real estate. Some financial crises were preceded by a rapid increase in the indebtedness of one or several groups of borrowers rather than by a rapid increase in the price of an asset or security. These deep-going changes in the world’s global economy were accompanied by political ramifications of a very significant order.

The economic shocks of the post-war period gave rise to the political shocks which if anything were more visible than what was apparent in the economies of the advanced world. Since 1945 everything had after the post-war reconstruction been regarded as L’Age Dor, (Golden Age) as the French had called it. This was a period from the early 1950s characterized by high levels of growth, low and falling unemployment, rising level wages and investment, where in the UK we were informed that ‘we had never had it so good’’ as the Conservative government proudly boasted. The Labour party had held the reins of government from 1945-1951. But things began to change during the 1970s, namely that the political/economic pivot changed definitively in the late 70s and early 80s. The Thatcher/Reagan duo grabbed the bull by the horns and established the new order.

This political/economic dispensation was to last from the early 1980s and through to what was to be the supposed blossoming of the Clinton years of growth and enrichment, the apex of the Anglo-American moment. To be sure: “Pippa’s Song.’’ See Below.

The year’s at the spring,
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hill-side’s dew-pearl’d;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven –
All’s right with the world!

Robert Browning (1812-1889)

Yes, if only it could always be like this. But of course, it seldom or never is, as was to be witnessed in due course.

Consolidation of the New Order

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Dynamic Duo!

The intellectual theorists of the new order – the Mount Perelin Society – an emergent think-tank and intellectual movement behind the Thatcher-Reagan populism. In a both internally coherent framework and an ideology used to promote the power of the owners of capital in general and finance capital in particular. The work of Hayek, Von Mises, and others constituted a serious intellectual exercise grounded in a particular set of values (including Milton Friedman albeit a junior member) namely, a commitment to human freedom, defined by control over one’s property. The fact that this justified for shrinking the size of the state, removing capital controls, and reducing taxes is what led several prominent international financiers (George Soros comes to mind for some reason) to cover a large portion of the costs for the first meeting. So, the party (in terms of both political activity and organization) was calling nearly all the shots.

Another significant event has been the intellectual collapse of Labour and Social-Democratic parties in Europe and possibly even included the left-wing of the US Democratic Party and Bernie Sanders. These were clearly the most significant political events in both Europe and North America during the 1980s. We can list them – all late converts to the neo-liberal paradigm – in France (PS Party Socialist France) (Germany SPD) (Greece PASOK) (Spain PODEMOS) (UK Labour Party) the list goes on. Moreover, having given up on any notion of socialism and equality, these ex-parties metamorphosed into centre-right outfits indistinguishable from the militant conservatives. The leaders of these counterrevolutions were the ineffable bought duo – Bill Clinton and Tony Blair.

The privatization programme was to sweep all before it including on a massive scale the expropriation of public land with little analysis or oversight. The programme of what was once the public sector and which had included, the National Health Service, Education, Transport, Road and Rail, Electricity, Water … was a policy based upon ideological rather than practical considerations; moreover, the list was extensive. Perhaps an example of this policy was education, particularly higher education which was provided and subsidized by educational opportunities in the elite universities. As a British national I was subsidized by generous government grant in 1979/82. I then finished my higher education as a post-graduate in 1986 – again free of charge. It is of course inconceivable that I would have been able to do this today.

The economic system – that is to say the present financialized system prevalent in the Western world – seems to be reaching its crisis point. Quack remedies for the ailing western economic structures, include Central Bank Digital Currencies, CBDCs, and/or the black hole of ever-increasing debt, which apparently will be overcome by issuing more debt (sic) and which are touted as a ‘solution’ to an intensifying structural problem, but which merely intensify the crisis.

According to Marx: ‘’In France and England, the bourgeoisie had conquered political power. Thenceforth, the class-struggle, practically as well as theoretically, took on more and more outspoken and threatening forms. It sounded the death-knell of scientific bourgeois economy. It was thenceforth no longer a question, whether this theorem or that was true, but whether it was useful to capital or harmful, expedient, or inexpedient, politically dangerous, or not. In place of disinterested inquirers, there were prize fighters; in place of genuine scientific research, the bad conscience and evil intent of the apologetic.’’ (Capital, Volume 1, Afterword to the Second German Edition – London 1873).

The present deep economic crisis is, at bottom, a class issue. The residual elements of the old aristocracy survived the initial assault of the political economists of the 17/18/19th centuries who included Adam Smith (1723-1790), David Ricardo (1772-1823), John Stuart Mill (1806-1873), Karl Marx (1818-1883)/(Friedrich Engels (1820-1895). The ruling class saw the above group as being an assemblage of dangerous radicals who posed an alarming threat to the social and political order. Thus, from their perspective the powers-that-be saw fit to enlist a group of academics called the ‘marginalists’ in 1870. These were the counter-revolutionary mathematicians and included Leon Walras (Frenchman) William Stanley Jevons (Englishman) and Carl Menger (German). Whether or not the repudiation of classical political economy achieved by this counter-group was sustainable is a moot point (see above). But suffice it to say these gentlemen were the ideological foot-soldiers, or, in Marx’s words ‘hired Prize Fighters’ for the rentier classes. Unfortunately, their frozen economic theories survived to the present day and continue to dominate school and university curricula and represent the timeless (and tedious) axioms of micro-economics.

I’ll leave the last word to Michael Hudson.

‘’Real estate, stocks and bonds constitute the bulk of wealth in today’s economies, because most wealth is obtained by rent-seeking – land rent, monopoly rent, and financial charges for special privileges – and even more by capitalizing rentier revenues into financialized assets, all supported by tax favoritism. In contrast to industrial capitalism’s drive to minimize rentier charges to create a lower cost economy with less overhead costs, finance capitalism increases this burden. Regardless of how financiers and billionaire rentier make their fortunes, this rise in rentier wealth is counted as an addition to GDP, subtracted as an exploitive transfer payment …Much as the land and England’s Commons were privatized in the Enclosure movements from 15th to 19th centuries by a combination of force, legal stealth and corruption, today’s post-1980 privatization wave aims at appropriating basic public infrastructure to create opportunities for charging monopoly rent, along with bank lending to privatizers. Privatization and financialization tend to go together – at the economies expense.’’ (5)

Italy: La Lotta Continua! (Ongoing Struggle)

NOTES:

(1) Stolen: How to save the world from financialization by Grace Blakeley. (2) The Corruption of Capitalism – Guy Standing – (Ibid. p. 3)

(3) Grace Blakeley – (Ibid. p.62)

(4) Creative Destruction – Phillip Mullan – (p.22)

(5) The Destiny of Civilization – Michael Hudson – (p.25)

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Want Regime Change with Plausible Deniability? Call Creative Associates International

September 03rd, 2021

By Mnar Adley

Source

The Reagan administration constructed a network of outsourced private organizations that would do the dirty work of the U.S. empire, shielding the U.S. government from the prying eyes of investigators and journalists.
 

After organizing coups, overthrowing democratically-elected heads of state, and arming death squads all around the world in the 1960s and 1970s, it was clear that the CIA had an image problem. The Reagan administration, therefore, began constructing a network of outsourced private organizations that would do the dirty work of the U.S. empire, shielding the U.S. government from the prying eyes of investigators and journalists.

“A lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA,” Allen Weinstein, co-founder of the National Endowment for Democracy, told The Washington Post.

One of these groups is Creative Associates International, the subject of an in-depth MintPress News investigation by Senior Staff Writer Alan MacLeod. Alan joins MintCast host Mnar Muhawesh Adley today to discuss his findings.

Creative Associates International (CAI) was founded by Bolivian ex-pat M. Charito Kruvant in 1979. Visiting the organization’s website, viewers are met with images of smiling African children being taught how to read and write, happy Latino farmers, and pictures of Asian women going to school. The image CAI projects of itself is that it is a progressive charity helping many of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable groups. And it does indeed do education work in dozens of countries. But it also has a long history of being the shock troops for the U.S.’ regime-change agenda throughout the world.

CAI was involved in the 1991 Haitian coup d’etat that removed populist priest Jean Bertrand Arisitde from power; it has worked with Contra death squads in Nicaragua, helping to defeat the Sandinista revolution there; and it has also spearheaded a number of attempts to sow discord in Cuba, with the ultimate goal of removing the Communists from power.

CAI was hired to create a Twitter-like app for Cubans called ZunZuneo. The app would, at first, provide a great service and take over the market. Slowly, however, the plan was to drip-feed Cubans anti-Communist propaganda until the time came to organize a color revolution on the island through bombarding users with messages to take to the streets. CAI also recruited rappers to serve as anti-government figureheads who would push divisions and spread discord throughout the island.

With virtually all of its budget coming from the U.S. government and six of the seven members of its board former or current high U.S. officials, MacLeod describes Creative Associates as a government organization posing as a non-governmental organization.

Alan MacLeod is Senior Staff Writer and Podcast Producer with MintPress News. He completed his PhD at Glasgow University in 2017, where he studied the U.S. government’s attempts at regime change in Venezuela. Since then, he has published two books: Bad News From Venezuela: Twenty Years of Fake News and Misreporting and Propaganda in the Information Age: Still Manufacturing Consent. Joining MintPress News in 2019, he writes primarily on U.S. imperialism, Latin America, media and propaganda, and on cybersecurity issues.

In this frank discussion, we delve into the world of soft power and regime-change ops.

The West, Eurasia, and the Global South: The Development of Underdevelopment

The West, Eurasia, and the Global South: The Development of Underdevelopment

August 01, 2021

By Francis Lee for the Saker Blog

‘The dependency thesis, like all good (and great) theories can be summed up in a single phrase: Modern ‘’underdevelopment’’ is not ‘’historical backwardness’’ the result of late and insufficient development; it is the product of capitalist development, which is polarizing by nature’. (Andre Gunder Frank -1996.)

The leader of the UK Conservative Party, Mrs Thatcher, first came to power in the UK in 1979 with a brief to end the post-war consensus which had prevailed from the Labour party victory in 1945. Although Labour lost the ensuing elections from 1951-1963, the Conservative Party nonetheless adopted many of Labour’s social-democratic policies, particularly the economic policies, which characterised the post-war years. The same process was to take place when Ronald Reagan established a similar ascendency in the United States. The Thatcher-Reagan duo was born and was to terminate the post-war settlement in both the UK and the US.

Theories were put forward by economic luminaries on both sides of the Atlantic, but particularly by Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago. The notion that there existed a magic panacea that would banish all the problems associated with the failing British and American economic policies of 1945-1979, formed the basis of the Thatcher-Reagan economic radicalism, which was to be followed by the Blair-Clinton consolidation of the 1990s. The so-called ‘supply-side’ revolution consisted of removing all the controls which undergirded capitalism, and which had been painstakingly put in place during the course of the 20th century, and simply letting the system find its own level. Privatisation, deregulation, and liberalisation were the components in this policy paradigm.

Of course none of this is news; it had been the staple of the West’s chattering classes in the late 20th century. But its effects were more than restricted to the North Atlantic bloc and was to have a global impact changing the political and economic policies and structures of the whole world.

NEO-LIBERALISM & GLOBALIZATION

­In international terms ‘free’-trade as it was known was at the heart of the system – a system, which was later to become known as globalization, packaged and sold as an irresistible force of nature. Globalization was considered to be neo-liberalism writ large. But on the contrary, a more nuanced interpretation was to be put forward by one of the more astute commentators on the issue.

‘’The standard and most popular narrative is of globalization as the twin of neo-liberalism, expressing the market-fundamentalist view that state-intervention is bad for the economy. It is argued that the state interferes too much with the self-regulating power of the markets, thereby undermining prosperity. This perspective would explain why Alan Greenspan regarded it as fortunate that globalization was rendering the government as being redundant. We call this the anti-state narrative. An alternative narrative is actually considerably more germane: an anti-politics, specifically an anti-mass politics narrative. Greenspan’s statement incorporated the conventional presumption that the West has reached the frontiers of traditional politics: politics has lost its efficacy in the face of global forces. As a result, especially economic policy, is now pretty irrelevant if not actually detrimental, because everything is driven by – determined by – the impersonal force of globalisation. (1) So it is argued.

It was of course taken as axiomatic that free-trade – a vital component in the new economic paradigm – was always and everywhere the best policy. This conventional wisdom was to become known as the ‘Washington Consensus’ and was given a legitimating cachet by political, business, and academic elites around the world. However many of the elements – if not all – of the Washington Consensus where hardly new, many date back to the 18th and 19th centuries and perhaps beyond. It could be said that the newly emergent mainstream orthodoxy represented a caricature of an outdated and somewhat dubious political economy.

The free-trade canon is, of course, spoken of in almost reverential terms. It is as jealously guarded by the economics priesthood in Wall Street and the City of London and of course academia. In short, the theory is based upon a type of formal logic expounded by the early pioneers of political economy, viz., Adam Smith and David Ricardo; and in particular in Ricardo’s magnum opus, The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation first published in 1817. Briefly he argued that nations should specialise in what they do best and in that way world output would be maximised. The hypothetical example he used was England and Portugal and the production of wine and cloth, where he calculated that England should produce cloth and Portugal should produce wine. It was asserted, although no evidence was ever presented, that all would gain from this international division of labour.

However, even a cursory glance at economic history, and particularly the transition from agrarian to industrial societies, demonstrates the weaknesses, and indeed serves to falsify the whole Ricardian model – taken as a model of development. The brute historical fact is that every nation which has successfully embarked upon this transition, including most importantly the US and Germany, has done so adopting catch-up policies which were the exact opposite of those advocated by the free-trade school. (2)

In the world of actually existing capitalism free-trade is the exception rather than the rule. Contemporary free-trade is mainly a matter of intra-firm trading, that is to say, global companies trading with their own subsidiaries and affiliates mainly for tax avoidance purposes, transfer pricing for example. Next come the regional trading blocs – the EU, NAFTA, (which was superseded by the United States–Mexico–Canada Agreement USMCA) and Mercosur (in Latin America). With regard to Mercosur there is no common currency as is the case in most of the EU. Thirdly there is barter trade where goods and services are exchanged for other goods and services rather than money. Finally only about 20% of world trade can at most be considered free trade, and even here there are exceptions involving bilateral specifications and agreements.

INTERVENTIONISM

Modernisation and industrialisation, wherever it took place, involved tariffs, non-tariff barriers (3) infant industry protection, export subsidies, import quotas, grants for Research and Development (R&D), patents, currency manipulation, mass education and so forth – a smorgasboard of interventionist policies whereby the economy was directed from above by the state. For example, during its period of industrialisation, the United States erected tariff walls to keep out foreign (mainly British) goods with the intention of nurturing nascent US industries. US tariffs (in percentages of value) ranged from 35% to almost 50% during the period 1820-1931, and the US itself only became in any sense a free trading nation after WW2, that is once its financial and industrial hegemony had been established.

In Europe laissez-faire policies were also eschewed. In Germany in particular tariffs were lower than those in the US, but the involvement of the German state in the development of the economy was decidedly hands on. Again there was the by now standard policy of infant industry protection, and this was supplemented by an array of grants from the central government including scholarships to promising innovators, subsidies to competent entrepreneurs, and the organisation of exhibitions of new machinery and industrial processes. In addition ‘’during this period Germany pioneered modern policy, which was important in maintaining social peace – and thus promoting and encouraging social investment – in a newly unified country.’’ (4)

This path from under-development to modern industrial development, a feature of historical and dynamic economic growth and expansion which has taken place in the US, Europe, and East Asia is not a ‘natural’ progression, it was a matter of state policy. It has been the same everywhere that it has been applied. That being said the Ricardian legacy still prevails. But this legacy takes on the form of a free-floating ideology with little connexion to either practical policy prescriptions or the real world.

Turning to the real world it can be seen, by all of those who have eyes to see, that, ‘’ … history shows that symmetric free-trade between nations of approximately the same level of development, benefits both parties.’’ However, ‘’ … asymmetric trade will lead to the poor nation specialising in being poor, whilst the rich nation will specialise in being rich. To benefit from free-trade, the poor nation must rid itself of its international specialisation of being poor. For 500 years this has not happened anywhere without any market intervention.’’ (5)

GLOBAL ECONOMIC ASYMMETRY

This asymmetry in the global system is both cause and consequence of globalization. It should be borne in mind that the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are the providers of cheap raw material inputs to the industrial countries of North America, Western Europe and East Asia. In technological terms the LDC’s find themselves locked into low value-added, dead-end production where no discernible technology transfer takes place. Thus under-development is a structural characteristic of globalization, not some unfortunate accident. Put another way,

‘’ … If rich nations (the North) as the result of historical tendencies (i.e., colonialism – FL) are relatively well-endowed with vital resources of capital, entrepreneurial ability, and skilled labour, their continued specialisation in products and processes that use these resources intensively can create the necessary conditions for their further growth. By contrast LDCs (the global South) endowed with abundant supplies of cheap unskilled labour, by intentionally specialising in products which use cheap, unskilled labour … often find themselves locked into a stagnant situation which perpetuates their comparative advantage in unskilled unproductive activities. This in turn inhibits the domestic growth of needed capital, and technical skills. Static efficiency becomes dynamic inefficiency, and a cumulative process is set in motion in which trade exacerbates already unequal trading relationships, distributes benefits largely to the people who are already well off, and perpetuates the physical and human resource under-development that characterises most poor nations. (6)

Examples of these unequal economic relationships are not difficult to find. US global trade policy was openly based upon a ‘Me Tarzan, you Jane’ set up. America’s trade ‘partners’ were somewhat less endowed with both political and economic capital compared with their senior trading associate – this fact provides a number of typical case studies in this connexion.

Agriculture was always a particular example of the double standard inherent in the trade liberalization agenda. The United States always insisted that other countries reduce their barriers to American products and eliminate subsidies for those products which competed against theirs. However, the US kept up barriers for the goods produced by the developing countries whilst it continued to underwrite massive subsidies for their own producers.

Agricultural subsidies encouraged American farmers to produce more output, forcing down global prices for the crops that poor developing countries produce and depend upon. For example, subsidies for one crop alone, cotton, went to 25,000 mostly very well-off US farmers, exceeded in value the cotton that was produced, lowering the global price of cotton enormously. American farmers, who account for a third of global output, despite the fact that US production costs twice the international price of 42 cents per pound, gained at the expense of the 10 million African farmers in Mali, West Africa, who depended on cotton for their meagre living. Several African countries lost between 1 and 2 percent of their entire income, an amount greater than what these particular countries received in foreign aid from the US. The state of Mali received US$37 million in aid but lost US$43 million from depressed cotton prices.

In other grubby little deals the US tried to keep out Mexican tomatoes, and Mexican trucks, Chinese honey, and Ukrainian women’s coats. Whenever an American industry is threatened, the US authorities swing into action, using so-called fair-trade laws, which had been largely blessed by the Uruguay Round.

Such Treaties were little more than a con game between two grossly unequal partners where one of the partners holds all the cards. Nor does it end there. Transnational Companies can and do avoid much local taxation by shifting profits to subsidiaries in low-tax venues by artificially inflating the price which they pay for their intermediate products purchased from these same subsidiaries so as to lower their stated profits. This phenomenon is usually called ‘transfer pricing’ and is a common practice of Transnational Companies (TNCs), one over which host governments can exert little control as long as corporate tax rates differ from one country to the next.

It should also be borne in mind that although the IMF and World Bank enjoin LDCs to adopt market liberalisation policies they apparently see – or conveniently ignore – the past and current mercantilist practices of developed nations. Agriculture, as has been noted, is massively subsidised in both NAFTA and the EU. But it really is a question of don’t do what I do – do as I say.

The hypocrisy at the heart of the problem represents the elephant in the room. We know that countries which attempt to open their markets when they are not ready to do so usually pay a heavy price (Russia during the Yeltsin period and the shock therapy for example). The countries which protect their growing industries until they are ready to trade on world markets – e.g. South Korea –have been the successes, even in capitalist terms. The wave of development during the 19th century and the development of East Asia in the 20th bears witness to this.

NOT IN THE DEVELOPMENT BUSINESS

But the object of the free-trade rhetoric and finger-wagging posture of the developed world is precisely to maintain the status quo. We should be aware that … ‘’Transnational Corporations are not in the development business; their objective is to maximise their return on capital. TNCs seek out the best profit opportunities and are largely unconcerned with issues such as poverty, inequality, employment conditions, and environmental problems.’’ (7)

Given the regulatory capture of the political structures in the developed world by powerful business interests, it seems that this situation is likely to endure for the foreseeable future. Development will only come about when the LDCs take their fate into their own hands and emulate the national building strategies of East Asia.

‘’…markets have a strong tendency to reinforce the status quo. The free market dictates that countries should stick to what they are good at. Stated bluntly, this means that poor countries are supposed to continue with the current practices in low-productivity, low-value added, and low research-intensive activities. But engagement in these activities is exactly what makes them poor in the first place. If they want to leave poverty behind, they have to defy the market and do the more difficult things that bring them higher income and development – there are no two ways about it.’’ (8)

APPENDIX

THE RUSSIAN ROAD.

The legacy of the Yeltsin years had left Russia badly exposed to a triumphalist Western US/EU/NATO bloc. The NATO expansion up to Russia’s western frontiers posed a serious threat to Russia’s security. Internationally Russia was relatively isolated. The socialist political and economic alliances (Warsaw Pact and Comecon) were disbanded, and their previous commercial and economic networks were dismantled. The Russian Federation was excluded from membership of the European Union and was not (yet) a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). This was the background for the widespread popular support for the assertive policy of President Putin.

But the geopolitical situation was to say the least – challenging. For his part Putin objected to NATO’s deployment of missiles in Poland and Romania pointed directly at Russia. In 1999 the Visegrad countries, Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary, joined NATO and in 2004 they were joined by Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. All these states joined in 2009. Albania and Croatia joined in the same year. Economically, politically and militarily, the ‘’West’’ had arrived at Russia’s borders.

In addition to its external enemies Russia had an abundance of internal foes. This latter group was a product of the Yeltsin model and prior to this a tottering bureaucratic system which barely worked and ultimately collapsed. It was possible to distinguish two main groups which, for better or worse, undermined the Soviet system, which were identified as 1. The Administrative Class, and 2. The Acquiring Class, to which should be added the black-market entrepreneurs who were keen to emulate their western business icons in addition to the American mafia. Powerful reactionary and criminal elements in Russia were keen to bring about deep-rooted changes at the expense of the Russian people.

‘’Ostensibly the reforms in Russia were overseen by a group of senior state officials headed by one Yegor Gaidar and advised, supported and encouraged by senior figures from the US administration, as well as by various American ‘experts.’ But according to an American scholar, Janine Wedel, the Russian reforms were worked out in painstaking detail by a handful of specialists from Harvard University, with close ties to the American government, and were implemented in Russia through the politically dominant ‘Chubais Clan’. (Wedel – 2001). Chubais was officially reported as having engaged foreign consultants including officers of the CIA, to fill leading roles in the State Property Committee. Jonathan Hay, citizen of the USA and Officer in the CIA, was appointed director of the Foreign Technical Aid and Expertise Section and Deputy to the chairperson of the committee (Anatoliy Chubais) within the Expert Commission. The Expert Commission was empowered to review draft decrees of the president of Russia to review for the decisions by the government and instructions by the Chairman and Deputy Chairman of the State Property Committee of the Russian Federation of the details of privatisation in various sectors of the economy … The memoirs of Strove Talbott, Assistant to the US President William Jefferson Clinton on Russian affairs, left no doubt that the US administration viewed (the then) Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, as a reliable conduit for its interests in Russia.

The US neo-liberal economists Jeffrey Sachs and Andrei Shleifer, and Jonathan Hay, had an unprecedented degree of influence over Russia’s economic policy which was unparalleled for a sovereign state. Together with Gaidar and Chabais they formulated decisions that were inserted directly into Presidential decrees … Analysis shows that the implementation of Russian reforms organically combined an aspiration by Soviet bureaucrats to transform themselves from State functionaries into private property owners, and a desire on the part of the ruling elites in the West to impose their own system of values on their historical rival. It was thus inappropriate to speak of Russia and its neighbours in the CIS as having been independent in their conduct of radical economic reforms, and this very lack of independence was crucial for determining the strategy applied in these transformations.’’ (9)

Be that as it may, the damage to Russia carried out and orchestrated by both internal and external enemies was to push back Russian development at least two decades, if not more. Russia has been described by various informed opinion as being a ‘semi-peripheral economy’ and there is some truth in this, its main exports being raw materials and military and defence hardware. But this was a choice forced upon Russia by the US-western alliance. At the turn of the 19/20 century Russia needed to defend itself from western aggression. There were two absolute priorities. Agricultural security and military security. This was the sine qua non for Russia’s continued survival and development. The mixed economy – a characteristic of the western economic models, was for the moment, out of reach. But then the west started to run into its own problems, so things began to balance, particularly with the emergence of the Russian-Chinese alliance. However, the Yeltsin period which had produced a crop of cronies, co-conspirators, criminal and mafia elements, are still hidden in the shadows, often in very high places. The struggle goes on. La Lotta Continua.

NOTES

(1) Phillip Mullan – Beyond Confrontation – p.36

(2) These economic policies as advocated by Alexander Hamilton in the US. In the month of January of 1791, the Secretary of Treasury to the then President George Washington’s administration, Mr. Alexander Hamilton, proposed a seemingly innocuous excise tax on spirits distilled within the United States of America. The move was part of Hamilton’s initiative to encourage industrialization and higher degree of national sufficiency. In his December 1791 report to manufacturers, Hamilton called for protective tariffs to spur domestic production. Also, Hamilton called for the reduction of duties on goods that were carried by American ships.

This was also the case of Freidrich List in Germany in his short work – The National System of Political Economy.

(3) A non-tariff barrier (NTB) is a policy implemented by a government that acts as a cost or impediment to trade. It is not tariffs on products but rather different rules and regulations that are often the biggest practical barrier to trade between countries. Examples of non-tariff barriers include rules on labelling and safety standards on products. Other types of non-tariff barriers to trade can also be the result of policies that differentiate between national and international companies and firms. For example, domestic subsidies by governments to a carmaker may help keep that manufacturer in their country. However, that acts as essentially an indirect non-tariff barrier to other car companies looking to compete. Governments are also often likely to give preferential treatment to companies in their own country when it comes to government procurement contracts. Governments also buy products from their own industries in preference to foreign companies, these are called procurement policies another NTB. This can be seen as an impediment to free and fair international trade.

(4) Ha-Joon Chang – Kicking Away the Ladder – p.32/33.

(5) How Rich Countries Got Rich and Why Poor Countries Stay Poor. – Erik Reinert. It could be argued that political intervention would be the prerequisite for an industrial policy.

(6) Development Economics – Todaro and Smith – 2009

(7) Todaro and Smith – Development Economics – Ibid.

(8) Ha-Joon Chang – Bad Samaritans – p.210

(9) Ruslan Dzarasov – Russia, Ukraine and Contemporary Imperialism – Semi-Peripheral Russia and the Ukraine Crisis – pp.82-97

Do as I say … not as I do

Do as I say … not as I do

April 19, 2021

By Francis Lee who looks at the politics of development and under-development for the Saker Blog.

I think it was Sir Ian Gilmour (now deceased) who, as one time member of Mrs Thatcher’s first Cabinet in 1979, referred to her economic policy as ‘Clause 4 dogmatism in reverse.’ (1) This was an apt description from a thinking Tory. The notion that there existed a magic panacea which would banish all the problems associated with Britain’s (and the world’s) economic ills, formed the basis of Thatcherism, Reaganism, and the Third-wayism of Clinton and Blair. The so-called ‘supply-side’ revolution consisted of removing all the controls from capitalism which had been painstakingly put in place over the centuries, and simply letting the system rip – and rip it did. The 1970s was the beginning of the interregnum to the new order of the 1980s and beyond, which had ushered in policies of privatisation, deregulation, liberalisation which were the key components of this policy paradigm.

In international terms free-trade and free-markets were of course at the heart of the system – a system which was to become known as ‘globalization’ and/or neoliberalism packaged and sold as an irresistible force of nature. It was considered, by all the people that mattered, that free-trade was always and everywhere the best policy. This view was codified in what was to become known as the ‘Washington Consensus.’ The new conventional wisdom was conceived of and given a legitimating cachet by political, business, MSM and academic elites around the world.

However, many of the elements – if not all – of the Washington Consensus were hardly new, and indeed many date back to the 18th and 19th centuries and perhaps beyond. It could be said that the newly emergent mainstream orthodoxy represented a caricature of an outdated and somewhat dubious political economy.

The theory that free trade between nations would maximise output and welfare was first mooted by Adam Smith, but its final elaboration was conducted by David Ricardo in his famous work The Principles of Political Economy and Taxation first published in 1817. Briefly, he argued that nations should specialise in what they do best and in that way world output would be maximised. This policy was called ‘comparative advantage’. The hypothetical example he used was England and Portugal and the production of wine and cloth, where he calculated that England should produce cloth and Portugal should produce wine. It was asserted, though no evidence was ever presented, that all would gain from this international division of labour. The theory is in fact full of unsubstantiated and seductive notions, but its practical application is limited. Because it is based upon so many rigid and static assumptions, it is especially appealing to those of a status quo disposition, including most present- day globalist thinkers.

However, even a cursory glance at economic history, and particularly the transition from agrarian to industrial societies, demonstrates the weaknesses, and indeed, serves to falsify the whole Ricardian trade paradigm. The brute historical fact is that every nation which has successfully embarked on this transition – including the UK – has done so adopting policies which were the exact opposite of those advocated by the free-trade school. In the world of actually existing capitalism, free-trade is the exception rather than the rule. Contemporary world trade is mainly a matter of intra-firm trading, that is, global companies trading with their own affiliates and subsidiaries in different countries, mainly for tax avoidance purposes (see below). Next there are regional trading blocs like the EU or US which erect tariff barriers to non-members. Thirdly there is barter trade where goods and services are exchanged for other goods and services rather than money. Finally, only about 20% at most, can be considered to be free trade, and even here there are exceptions involving bilateral specifications and agreements.

Modernisation and industrialisation, wherever it took place, involved tariffs, infant industry protection, export subsidies, import quotas, grants for R&D, patents, currency manipulation, mass education and so forth … a smorgasboard of interventionist policies whereby the economy was directed from above by the state. For example during its period of industrialisation the United States erected tariff walls to keep out foreign (mainly British) goods with the intention of nurturing nascent US industries. US tariffs (in percentages of value) ranged from 35 to almost 50% during the period 1820-1931, and the US itself only became in any sense a free-trading nation after World War II, that is once its financial and industrial hegemony had been established. In Europe laissez-faire was also eschewed. In Germany in particular tariffs were lower in the US, but the involvement of the German state in the development of the economy was decidedly hands-on. Again there was the by now standard policy of infant industry protection, and this was supplemented by an array of grants from the central government including scholarships to promising innovators, subsidies to competent entrepreneurs, and the organisation of exhibitions of new machinery and industrial processes. In addition, ‘’during this period Germany pioneered modern social policy, which was important in maintaining social peace – and thus promoting investment – in a newly unified country … ‘’(2)

It has been the same everywhere, yet the Ricardian legacy still prevails. But this legacy takes on the form of a free-floating ideology with little connexion to either practical policy prescriptions or the real world. It has been said in this respect that ‘’ … practical results have little to do with the persuasiveness of ideology.’’(3) This much is true, but it rather misses the point: the function of ideology is not to supply answers to problems in the real world, but simply to give a Panglossian justification to the prevalent order of things.

Turning to the real world it will be seen that ‘’ … history shows that symmetric free-trade, between nations of approximately the same level of development, benefits both parties.’’ However, ‘’asymmetric trade will lead to the poor nation specialising in being poor, while the rich nation will specialise in being rich. To benefit from free trade, the poor nation must rid itself of its international specialisation of being poor. For 500 years this has not happened anywhere without any market intervention.’’ (4)

This asymmetry in the global system is both cause and consequence of globalization. It should be borne in mind that the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are suppliers of cheap raw material inputs to the industrialised countries of North America, Western Europe, and East Asia. In technological terms the LDCs find themselves locked into low value-added, low-productivity, low-research intensive dead-end production, where no discernible development or technology transfer takes place. Thus under-development is a structural characteristic of globalization, not some unfortunate accident. Put another way:

‘’ … if rich nations (the North) as the result of historical forces, are relatively well endowed with the vital resources of capital, entrepreneurial ability, and skilled labour, their continued specialisation in products and processes that use the resources intensively can create the necessary conditions for their further growth. By contrast LDCs (the global-South) endowed with abundant supplies of cheap, unskilled labour, by intentionally specialising in products that use cheap, unskilled labour … will often find themselves locked into a stagnant situation that perpetuates their comparative advantage in unskilled, unproductive activities. This in turn inhibits the domestic growth of needed capital, entrepreneurship, and technical skills. Static efficiency becomes dynamic inefficiency, and a cumulative process is set in motion in which trade exacerbates already unequal trading relationships, distributes benefits largely to the people who are already well-off, and perpetuates the physical and human resource under-development that characterises most poor nations.’’ (5)

The cocoa-chocolate industry (hereafter CCI) of the West African nations, Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria are a case in point. These countries produce the majority of the world’s raw cocoa beans. But of course the industry as a whole is controlled by western multinationals such as Hershey, Nestlé and Cadbury-Schweppes (now Kraft). The structure of this industry – vertically integrated – is very typical of the relationship between the LDCs and the developed world. The low value-added part of the industry – growing and harvesting the beans – is left to individual farmers in West Africa. Buying agencies, either very close to, or in fact subsidiaries of multinational companies (MNCs), then buy the raw material at prices usually dictated by the MNCs. This asymmetrical relationship between supplier and sole buyers (the African farmers) is termed ‘monopsony’ in the economics jargon. It should be understood that large companies not only over-price their products to the final consumer, but also under-price their purchases from their captive suppliers. From then on, the various stages of the processing supply chain are in the hands of the parent company. From raw beans, to roasting, milling, refining, manufacturing of chocolate or cocoa, shipping, and packaging, branding and advertising – all of these stages add value to the product, value which is garnered by the MNC. The exporting African nations are left with the low or no value-added end of the operation, a technological cul-de-sac.

Nor does it end there. MNCs can avoid much local taxation by shifting profits to subsidiaries in low-tax venues by artificially inflating the price which it pays for intermediate products purchased from these same subsidiaries so as to lower its stated profits. This phenomenon is known as transfer pricing and is a common practice of MNCs – one over which host governments can exert little control as long as corporate tax rates differ from one country to the next. Hypothetically it works as follows:

Take a company called World Inc. which produces a type of food in Africa; it then processes it and sells the finished product in the United States. World Inc. does this via three subsidiaries: Africa Inc. (in Africa Malawi ), Haven Inc. (in a tax haven, British Virgin Islands with zero taxes) and America Inc. (in the United States).

1. Now Africa Inc. sells the produce to Haven Inc. at an artificially low price, resulting in Africa Inc. having artificially low profits – and consequently an artificially low tax bill in Africa. 2. Then Haven Inc. sells the product to America Inc. at a very high price – almost as high as the final retail price at which 3. America Inc. sells the processed product. As a result, America Inc. also has artificially low profitability, and an artificially low tax bill in America. By contrast, however, Haven Inc. has bought at a very low price, and sold at a very high price, artificially creating very high profits. However, Haven Inc is located in a tax haven – so it pays no taxes on those profits. Easy Peasy, no?

Bear in mind also that although the IMF and World Bank enjoin LDCs to adopt market liberalisation policies, they apparently see – or conveniently ignore – the past and current mercantilist practices of developed nations. Agriculture for example is massively subsidised in both the US and the EU. But it really is a question of don’t do what I do – do as I say. This hypocrisy at the heart of the problem represents the elephant in the room. We know that countries which attempt to open their markets when they are not ready to do so usually pay a heavy price (in the 1990s with Russia and the free-market shock-therapy for example). The countries which protect their growing industries until they are ready to trade on world markets have been the successes – even in capitalist terms. The wave of development in the 19th century and the development of East Asian economies during the 20th century bears witness to this.

But the object of the free-trade rhetoric and finger wagging posture of the developed world is precisely to maintain the status quo. We should be aware that: ‘’… multinational corporations are not in the development business; their objective is to maximise their return on capital. MNCs seek out the best profit opportunities and are largely unconcerned with issues such as poverty, inequality, employment conditions, and environmental problems.’’ (6)

Given the regulatory capture of the political structures in the developed world by powerful business interests, it seems that this situation is likely to endure for the foreseeable future. Development will only come about when the LDCs take their fate into their own hands and emulate the nation-building strategies of East Asia and in the 19th century by Germany and the United States. These leaders and leading nations were not to sit back and let the British rule the roost. They acted and they overcame.

Germany: Georg Friedrich List (1789-1846).  He was a forefather of the German historical school of economics and ‘National System of Political Economy’. He argued for the German Customs Union from a Nationalist standpoint. He advocated imposing tariffs on imported goods while supporting free trade of domestic goods and stated the cost of a tariff should be seen as an investment in a nation’s future productivity.

The USA – Alexander Hamilton In the aftermath of ratification, Hamilton continued to expand on his interpretations of the Constitution to defend his proposed economic policies as Secretary of the Treasury. Credited today with creating the foundation for the U.S. financial system, Hamilton wrote three reports addressing public credit, banking, and raising revenue. In addition to the National Bank, Alexander Hamilton founded the U.S. Mint, created a system to levy taxes on luxury products (such as whiskey), and outlined an aggressive plan for the development of internal manufacturing.

The USA – President – Ulysses S Grant

“For centuries England has relied on protection, has carried it to extremes and has obtained satisfactory results from it. There is no doubt that it is to this system that it owes its present strength. After two centuries, England has found it convenient to adopt free trade because it thinks that protection can no longer offer it anything. Very well then, gentlemen, my knowledge of our country leads me to believe that within 200 years, when America has gotten out of protection all that it can offer, it too will adopt free trade.” (7)

Markets have a strong tendency to reinforce the status quo. The free market dictates that countries stick to what they are good at. Stated bluntly, this means that poor countries are supposed to continue with their current engagement in low productivity activities. But engagement in those activities is exactly what makes them poor. If they want to leave poverty behind, they have to defy the market and do the more difficult things that bring them higher incomes – it is as simple as that, and there are no two ways about it.


NOTES

(1Clause 4 was part of the British Labour Party’s early Constitution. But is no longer in any real sense part of the constitution of the contemporary UK Labour Party, setting out the aims and values of the party (New Labour) as it is now called. The original clause, adopted in 1918, called for common ownership of heavy industry, and proved controversial in later years; the then leader, Hugh Gaitskell, attempted to remove the clause after Labour’s loss in the 1959 general election.

In 1995, under the leadership of Tony Blair, a new (revisionist) Clause IV was adopted. This was seen as a significant moment in Blair’s redefinition of the party as New Labour, but has survived and become a centrist party along with sister parties in Europe and the Democratic party in the US beyond the New Labour branding.

(2) Kicking Away the Ladder – Ha-Joon Chang

(3) The Trillion Dollar Meltdown – Charles Morris

(4) How Rich Countries Got Rich and Why Poor Countries Stay Poor – Erik Reinert.

(5) Development Economics – Todaro and Smith

(6) Ibid – Todaro and Smith

(7) Collected Works

Washington Has Resurrected the Specter of Nuclear Armageddon

Paul Craig Roberts - Official Homepage

March 17, 2021

Truth Is An Endangered Species:  Support It

Washington Has Resurrected the Specter of Nuclear Armageddon

Paul Craig Roberts

During the 20th century Cold War with the Soviet Union, there were US Soviet experts who were concerned that the Cold War was partly contrived and, therefore, needlessly dangerous. Stephen Cohn at Princeton University, for example, believed that exaggerating the threat was as dangerous as underestimating it.  On the other hand, Richard Pipes at Harvard believed that the CIA dangerously underestimated Soviet military power and failed to grasp Soviet strategic intentions.

In 1976 President Gerald Ford and CIA Director George H.W. Bush commissioned an outside panel of experts to evaluate the CIA’s National Intelligence Estimates. This group was known as Team B.  Under Pipes’ leadership Team B created the perception that the US faced a dangerous “window of vulnerability.”

In conventional wisdom, in order to close this window of vulnerability President Reagan began an American arms buildup.  On this point conventional wisdom is wrong. The Reagan military buildup was as much hype as reality.  Its purpose was to bring the Soviets to the negotiating table and end the Cold War in order to remove the threat of nuclear war.  Reagan’s supply-side policy had fixed the problem of worsening trade-offs between employment and inflation, thus making an arms buildup possible.  In contrast, Reagan regarded the Soviet economy as broken and unfixable.  He reasoned that a new arms race was more than the Soviets could afford, and that the threat of one would bring the Soviets to the table to negotiate the end of the Cold War.

The Soviet Union collapsed when hardline communists, convinced that Gorbachev was endangering the Soviet Union by giving up too much too quickly before American intentions were known, placed President Gorbachev under house arrest.  The Yeltsin years (1991-1999) brought the dismemberment of the Soviet Empire and was a decade of Russian subservience to the United States.  

Putin came to power as the American neoconservatives were girding up to establish US and Israeli hegemony in the Middle East. As General Wesley Clark told us, seven countries were to be overthrown in 5 years. The American preoccupation with the Middle East permitted Putin to throw off American overlordship and reestablish Russian sovereignty.  Once Washington realized this, the American establishment turned on Putin with a vengence.  

Stephen Cohen, Jack Matlock (Reagan’s ambassador to the Soviet Union), myself and a few others warned that Washington’s refusal to accept Russian independence would reignite the Cold War, thus erasing the accomplishment of ending it and resurrecting the specter of nuclear war. But Washington didn’t listen.  Instead, Cohen and I were put on a list of “Russian agents/dupes,” and the process of trying to destabalize Putin began.  In other words, once an American colony always an American colony, and Putin became the most demonized person on earth.

Today (March 17) we had the extraordinary spectacle of President Biden saying on ABC News that President Putin is a killer, and “he will pay a price.”  This is a new low point in diplomacy.  It does not serve American interests or peace.  

Yesterday a CIA-Homeland Security report was declassified. The “report” is blatant propaganda. It alleges that Russia interfered in the 2020 election with the purposes of “denigrating President Biden’s candidacy and the Democratic Party, supporting former President Trump, undermining public confidence in the electoral process, and exacerbating sociopolitical divisions in the US.” “Russiagate” is still with us despite the failure of the three-year Mueller investigation to find a scrap of evidence.

We desperately need a new Team B like the one the CIA commissioned in 1976 to check on itself.  But in those days discussion and debate was possible.  Today they are not.  We live in a world in which only propaganda is permitted.  There is an agenda. The agenda is regime change in Russia.  No facts are relevant.  There will be no Team B to evaluate whether the Putin threat is exaggerated.

The anti-Russian craze that has been orchestrated in the US and throughout the Western world leaves the US in an extremely dangerous situation.  Americans and Europeans perceive reality only through the light of American propaganda.  American diplomacy, military policy, news reporting, and public undersranding are the fantasy creations of propaganda.

The Kremlin has shown amazing forbearance of Washington’s inanities and insults.  It was the Democrat Hillary Clinton who called President Putin the “new Hitler,”  and now Democrat Biden calls Putin “a killer.”  American presidents and presidential candidates did not speak of Soviet leaders in these terms. They would have been regarded by the American population as far too deranged to have access to the nuclear button.

Sooner or later the Kremlin will understand that it is pointless to respond to demonization with denials.  Yes, the Russians are correct. The accusations are groundless, and no facts or evidence is ever provided in support of the accusations.  Sooner or later the Kremlin will realize that the purpose of demonizing a country is to prepare one’s people and allies for war against it.

Washington pays no attention to Maria Zakharova and Dmitry Peskov’s objections to unsubstaniated accusations.

When “sooner or later” is, I do not know, but the Russians haven’t reached that point.  The Kremlin reads the latest allegations as an excuse for more sanctions against Russian companies and individuals. This reading is mistaken.  Washington’s purpose is to demonize Russia and its leadership in order to set Russia up for regime change and, failing that, for military attack.

In the United States Russian Studies has degenerated into propaganda.  Recently, two members of the Atlantic Council think tank, Emma Ashford and Matthew Burrows, suggested that American foreign policy could benefit from a less hostile approach to Russia. Instantly, 22 members of the think tank denounced the article by Ashford and Burrows.

This response is far outside the boundaries of the 20th century Cold War.  It precludes any rational or intelligent approach to American foreign policy.  Sooner or later the Kremlin will comprehend that it is confronted by a gangster outfit of the criminally insane.  Then what happens?

Washington’s Bastille

Washington’s Bastille

January 16, 2021

by Jimmie Moglia for the Saker Blog

Trump’s supporters, having found the vanity of conjecture and inefficacy of expectations, resolved to prove their own existence, if not by violence, at least by physical presence.

They came forth into the crowded capital with an almost juvenile ambition that their numbers would be counted, their voice heard and their presence noticed.

But every upheaval, from Spartacus to the Bastille, is subject to unexpected developments. However peaceful the intents may be, the man involved in a turmoil is forced to act without deliberation, and obliged to choose before he can examine. He is surprised by sudden alterations of the state of things, and changes his measures according to superficial appearances.

Still, the corporate media, whose intestinal refuse is paraded as news, triumphs in every discovery of failure and ignores any evidence of success.

But, revolutionarily speaking, the storming of Washington was a success. And Trump did not expect, inspired or willed the unfortunate deaths.

If and when some reliable evidence will be produced, it will be probably found that parasitic elements, with dubious sponsors and of dubious character, joined the crowd.

This would only surprise the unawareness of the thoughtless. Even in Kiev, the ‘revolutionaries’ included characters who actually shot into the crowd from sundry buildings – as documented, in an intercepted phone call, by a then female president-of-something in the European Union.

Yet, when all is said and done, Washington may prove more eventful than the actual Bastille. For the date of the Bastille’s capture (July 14, 1789), became a French national commemorative event only through a convenient historical post-scriptum.

The punctilious historian may remember that the Bastille, like the Capitol dome in Washington, was visible from all of Paris – a medieval fortress, 100 ft high. At the time of the riot it only held seven prisoners, nor the mob gathered to free them. They wanted the ammunitions stored inside the wall.

When the prison governor refused, the mob charged and killed him. His head was carried round the streets on a spike.

Of the seven liberated prisoners one, a mentally-ill, white-bearded old man was paraded through the streets while he waved at the crowd, four were forgers who disappeared among the rabble, another, also mentally ill, was later re-incarcerated into an asylum. The only nobleman, and potentially an ‘enemy of the people’, was the Count de Soulange, who had been imprisoned at the request of his family for sexual misconduct.

The irony continues. Insensible to its possible historical value, the revolutionaries contracted with an enterprising bourgeois to demolish the tower.

After subduing the revolution Napoleon did not like the suggestive ideological connotations of the Place de la Bastille and thought of building there his ‘Arc de Triomphe’ (the one now in the ‘Etoile’), but that did not prove popular.

Therefore he ordered, instead, to build a huge bronze statue of an imperial elephant. A plaster model, a facsimile of the future finished product was built and inaugurated, but the wars made funding difficult. Waterloo and the Restoration did not help either. The plaster elephant stood in the iconic square from 1814 to 1848 when irreparable decay prompted its demolition.

But I digress.

As for the Washington’s Bastille, the related and subsequent events have openly shown the essentially unlimited power of the swamp, which, Don Quixote-like, Trump said he would attempt to drain.

Most of us know that the UUABLPPTH [Unmentionables Unless Accompanied By Lavish Praise plus their lackeys – hereinafter referred to as the ‘unmentionables’] make up the core of the swamp. I will return to them later, but the massively falsified elections, incontrovertibly show, among other things, how much the unmentionables hate the deplorables – in the instance and probably 60% of the nation.

Generally speaking and under often-recurrent conditions, elections are a rite enabling citizens to believe or continue to pretend that they live in a democracy rather than in an authoritarian regime.

By tradition, the absolute obedience of the population to absurd and incoherent decrees (“Patriot Act” et als.) has repeatedly reassured the masters that whatever they impose, the deplorables will accept.

For example, the Vietnam war protesters of old, plus peace-loving, cultural-marxists and amphetamines-laden youths met with policemen and waved flowers under their nose as an act of rebellion. But the war only ended seven years later. Meanwhile the richer and/or well-heeled dodged the draft, while the poorer didn’t. Besides, that ‘flower-inspired’ rebellion was not aimed at ending the war (or the war would have ended), but at turning upside down universally accepted ethics, and with ethics, perhaps unbeknown to them, the world as we know it.

Nevertheless I don’t think we should single out Americans for blame. Already in 1552, the young Frenchman Etienne de la Boetie wrote his “The Discourse of Voluntary Servitude” to address the central problem of political philosophy, namely the mystery of civil obedience.

Why do people, asked Etienne, in all times and all places obey the commands of the government, which always constitutes a small minority of the society? To him the spectacle of general consent to despotism (or in the recent American case, to fraud) is puzzling and appalling. “All this havoc – says he – descends upon you not from alien foes, but from the one enemy whom you yourself render as powerful as he is, for whom you go bravely to war, for whose greatness you do not refuse to offer your own bodies unto death. He who thus domineers over you has only two eyes, only two hands, only one body, no more than is possessed by the least man among the infinite numbers dwelling in our cities. He has indeed nothing more than the power that you confer upon him to destroy you. Where has he acquired enough eyes to spy upon you, if you do not provide them yourselves?”

Good question, we may say, but the problem remains. It is understandable in general, but only confusedly answerable in detail, due to the infinite intricacies of our individual lives. Therefore, a blanket indictment of the deplorables for letting themselves be driven by the unmentionables is theoretically logical but practically unjustified.

Still, during the Washington’s Bastille and for the first time that I recall, the unmentionables felt some concern for their ass. It is tragic that some of the revolutionaries died, because, as we know, the intent of the rally was peaceful and nothing compared to what was witnessed throughout America in 2020.
The lackeys’ official horror and concern for ‘democracy’ show that there is no vice so simple but assumes some mark of virtue on its outward parts. All that wringing of arms and shows of deprecation are falser than oaths made in wine. For none of the Capitoline lords would answer why they didn’t want to recount the votes. Leading the average deplorable to conclude that there is no more faith in them (as a lot) than in a stewed prune. For their intoxication with themselves will give no way to reason.

Equally, the Washington’s Bastille brought to the attention of many how much the Constitution has sunk under the feet of the unmentionables. Here is but one example – not to repeat what the readers already know, but to show the arrogance associated with the systems of censure the country is subjected to.

After the death of Ms. Ashly Babbit, shot by a policeman, an Internet friend of mine published the following post on his FB account, along with her picture.

“This is Ashly Babbitt. She was shot and killed by law enforcement during a protest in America. No one will take the knee for her. There will be no murals in her honor. The media will not mourn her death. She is white therefore her life does not matter for the establishment.”

FB returned this message,

“Your account has been restricted for 30 days because your post did not follow community standards.”

To comment on FB’s response the author said, “Mourning the death of this woman on Facebook is banned. Yet we have spent many months mourning the death of a drug addict, a criminal, an abuser, a man who broke into a woman’s home and put a gun to her stomach in order to extort money out of her. We have been paying our respect to this man all over the world for the best part of last year. And this woman who proudly served her country, she is now dead and you cannot even pay your respects to her own social media.”

The restraint and politeness of the censored statement are beyond question. And its censuring should make us pause. For it shows the scorn of the enemy for the rest of us. A scorn that should include the concurrent barrage of nauseating platitudes and the unrestrained bubbling to the surface of a diabolical hatred, no-longer disguised but steeped deep in history.

The Internet is yesterday’s telephone and Zion did not invent the Internet, nor computers, computing and communication software. Yet, the communication engines and components, companies and operations, Google, Twitter, Facebook and Youtube are owned and controlled by the unmentionables.

From his soul in hell, Coudenhove-Kalergi must be laughing his head off. His predicted new world, made up of ancient-Egyptians-looking deplorables lorded over by the unmentionables, cannot any longer be branded as a conspiracy theory. Under our own eyes there is the shape of things to come at large.

For he who controls speech controls opinion. Opinion molds thought and thought drives action. Therefore monopoly of opinion leads to control of action, and action includes just about every aspect of life and liberty.

Besides, free speech is ultimately vital to being human. It is the most important aspect of everything we refer to as freedom. Lack of freedom is the triumph of tyranny. And the train of tyranny drags in tow injustice, repression, murder, corruption, unjust and unnecessary wars.

Even earlier and more primitive media, newspapers and radio, controlled by a few, were the engines of persuasion and coercion to drive millions into quasi-genocidal world wars.

As an aside and in this respect, Germans owe a debt of historical gratitude to the Soviet Union. For it was fear of the Soviets that prevented the implementation of the “Morgentau Plan”, already signed by Roosevelt and Churchill, to be carried out after the end of WW2 – a plan that included the sterilization of all Germans. Disbelievers may wish to consult the details of the plan, as well as the book, “Germany Must Perish” printed in the US during the war.

Restricting free speech is necessary in every war and every tyranny. And we can identify tyranny by how much freedom of speech we have and by how much we can criticize the rulers. For reason and truth can outweigh lies and corruption. But massive suppression and an avalanche of lies and propaganda can make a mockery of factual truth and stuff the ears of men with false reports. Many, sick of show and weary of noise, turn off the set, how many we know not.

In this respect, technology and the power of global corporations to corrupt the minds have never been more powerful and ominous, in all history.

Furthermore, media of all types can now control feelings as well as the more primitive emotional parts of the brain. Never has government been bigger and more able to repress freedom with an infrastructure that includes the FBI, CIA, NSA and their counterparts in individual states and nations.

Never past tyrants better controlled their subjects than the globalists today. The threat to the freedom of the western peoples of the world is the greatest threat to their existence. Suppression of freedom of speech is exampled in the attitude of a controlled media, which is totally against the common feelings of the majority.

Most peoples of the world and nations want to preserve their nationality, country, customs, habits, religion and way of life. None of the corporate channels reflect these beliefs and objectives.

The axis of movies, Zionist Hollywood, ever since the abolition of the “Motion Pictures Production Code” act (1954), has been an extremely powerful engine of persuasion and shaper of belief, custom, habits and action, as well as an inculcator of hatred, let alone depravity. For reference read this article [ https://www.theoccidentalobserver.net/2021/01/14/the-jewish-role-in-promoting-cannabis-and-why-its-bad-for-you/ ]

The sum of these forces led to the US summer of 2020. Which was not a summer of discontent, but an extended season of Hollywood and media-inspired hatred. And mass hatred, as opposed to individual hatred, is an organized phenomenon.

The current biggest shapers of thought and human action are the networks of social media, primary tools for sharing ideas and learning things.

Owning and controlling these organizations are a few people, whose ethnic affiliation is undisputed and unmentionable. They can decide what the world can see, say, hear and consequently think.

Dismissing the reality and the consequences of this ideological monopoly as a ‘conspiracy theory’ is an insult to the minds of millions.

The conspiratorial element of a theory depends on identifiable circumstances and hypotheses. Even historically sanctified characters such as president Franklin Roosevelt stated as follows,

“In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way…” The point is that many of the major world events that shape our destinies occur because there is a plan behind them.”

In the same line of thought, if we were merely dealing with the law of averages, half of the events affecting a nation’s well-being should be good for that nation. If it were just a matter of incompetence, the leaders should occasionally make a mistake in favor of the deplorables. Instead it is planning and foresight that form the shape of things to come at large.

Not that chance is necessarily ruled out. According to his biographers, even Hitler firmly believed in grasping at fleeting opportunities. In a speech or lecture to his adjutants given in 1938 he said, “There is but one moment when the goddess of fortune wafts by, and if you don’t grab her then by the hem you won’t to get a second chance.”

The quote came to mind in thinking about the disparagers who have compared Trump with Hitler. Stupidity is sometimes invincible but, probably unbeknown to his detractors, Trump as a president, shared some characteristics associated with leaders who reach power outside the canonical paths – canonical paths that often include corruption, opportunistic servitude and/or crime.

For one, by all appearances Trump had far less authority on his advisers and subordinates than what we think a president has – an authority that seemingly weakened with each passing year. Also, a characteristic of heads of state who over-rely on advisers is a conscious desire ‘not to know.’ Even if they are later deemed directly responsible for what happened.

It is total speculation but the assassination of the Iranian General Suleimani may be one such instance. Though in other cases the reverse is true. The opening towards Kim Yong Sun of North Korea fits with Trump’s general style.

On the other hand, the policy towards Venezuela, though justified imperialistically, does not fit the profile. The ‘self-proclaimed’ Guaido’ is a puppet worthy of a Simpsons cartoon. Based on what I know of the country (readers may also consult my article “Don’t Cry for Me Venezuela”), the regime is anything but what described by the unmentionable media. The tight economic sanctions, the equivalent of a war, the arbitrary freezing of Venezuela’s gold reserves in London, the theft of CITGO, (the Venezuelan oil company operating in the US), the placing a bounty of 15 million $ on the head of Maduro, the many failed coups d’etat – quite open in planning and gross in execution – do not seem consistent with Trump’s character, at least as displayed in his general demeanor and other occasions.

Incidentally, the two ‘ambassadors’ of the Guaido’ puppet, in the US and Britain, are unmentionables. And there is an extant recording of the UK ‘ambassador’ Newman where she discusses assigning the Esequibo mineral-rich area – disputed between Venezuela with Guyana since the early 1800 – to an Exxon consortium of sorts.

Besides, in my view and independently of ideological convictions, in oratory, consistence, intelligence and demeanor Maduro towers over all former and latter members of the Trump administration put together. A remarkable achievement, I think, for someone who started as a bus driver and union leader to become the president of Venezuela. And although I cannot, of course, verify its accuracy, there is information among some Venezuelan sources that Trump expressed a secret admiration for Maduro.

To conclude, most records of history are but narratives of successive villainies, treasons and usurpations, massacres and wars – of which professional historians explain causes and effects.

As a non professional historian but a rude mechanical who earns his bread upon the Athenian walls I offer here an extremely arbitrary theory. On the ground that, just as a right line describes the shortest passage from point to point, a plausible historical explanation is that which connects distant truths by the shortest of intermediate propositions.

Therefore I select few key events – constituting an arbitrary beginning and its connecting causal links to the present. In the instance, fractional banking, 1968, Reagan and the Washington Bastille.

Fractional banking is a generally familiar idea whose implications, I think, are not sufficiently realized due to the apparently neutral effect of the term ‘fractional’. Risking the contempt of professionals and economists I will reduce the notion to its core with an example.

A bank that owns, says, 10 k$ in gold can loan out 100 k$ in money that does not exist – at say, 10% yearly interest.

After one year, globally, the borrowers return 110 k$ to the bank, (loans plus interest). Of the globally returned 110 k$, 100k$ are the money that did not exist, but the 10 k$ paid as interest correspond to the labor expended by the borrowers.

Let’s for a moment overlook where the borrowers got the additional 10k$ from, because for the purpose of this demonstration, the point is not important.

The bottom line is that with an investment of 10 kS of actual money (gold for example) the banker realizes an interest of a real 10k$ or 100%. Now with 20 k$ of actual money he can lend out 200k$ of non-existing money and so on.

It follows that the bank’s wealth increases exponentially. Consequently, sooner or later, the bank or banking system will essentially own and control – directly and indirectly – everything that has a demonstrable commercial value.

Fractional banking became the operating system of the first modern capitalism only at the end of the 17th century, with the establishment of the Bank of England. Which, unknown to many, was a private bank that lent money to the crown for conducting business and waging wars. Money paid back from the taxes on citizens.

The system is so brilliant in its simplicity that we must wonder why was it not applied centuries before.

And here we meet again with the unmentionables. Christianity, as well as Islam for that matter, considered interest usury and usury a sin.

The philosophical tricks by which Christian rulers tried to skirt the issue are ingenious and often amusing. Suffice to say, with a gross generalization, that it was found more expedient to let the unmentionables handle the matter. From thereon begin their path to unstoppable power.

As for 1968 – the second selected event – there took place a brilliant ideological operation, and again I generalize for simplicity. For the 1968 ‘revolution’ launched the ideology aimed at the deconstruction and destruction of the family, customs, traditions and gender distinctions. Destruction leading eventually to the assault on nationalities and ethnicities.

That destruction is in progress. I suspect without proof that the unmentionables’ hatred for Trump stems from his effort, however feeble, to mount an opposition. Opposition to a new world order where humans become merchantable individual atoms, drifting on the smooth world plane of exchangeable merchandise.

As for Reagan, with his background as a Coca-Cola cowboy, he was the perfect president for cutting the taxes of the rich, under the now all-but-forgotten theory of ‘trickle-down economics.’ Perhaps a thinly-disguised reference to the parable of the rich Epulon, from whose table fell the crumbs for the starving deplorables of the time.
From then on and on a planetary scale the already exorbitant assets of the overclass, began to increase immeasurably. And deregulation triggered a race to the concentration of capital and activities. Resulting in the stratospheric wealth of the few, with which they can buy everybody and everything, and become a dominant power over the traditional states, as even the events of the last few weeks unquestionably prove.

Remember Reagan’s, “The state is not the solution of problems, the state is the problem”. And now the state, the law and even health (e.g. Covid) are turning into a mockery of themselves.

In the end and in my view, the Washington’s Bastille was but the externation of long repressed and related feelings of helplessness.

To those who cannot but feel nauseated by the means used to impose the current presidential ticket on the rest of us, I will quote the answer, attributed to the wife of a Turkish diplomat at the court of King Lois XV. A courtier was asking her what happiness consisted in. “My lord – she replied – our happiness depends on the circulation of the blood.” [… ma foi, Monsieur, notre bonheur depend de la facon que notre sang circule.]

The others may reflect that, after all, man is little more than an instrument in an orchestra directed by the muse of history.

Regression as a National Theme

October 2, 2020 

Lawrence Davidson | Author | Common Dreams
Lawrence Davidson is professor of history
emeritus at West Chester University in Pennsylvania.
He has been publishing his analyses
of topics in U.S. domestic and foreign policy,
international and humanitarian law
and Israel/Zionist practices and policies since 2010.

An Analysis (2 October 2020) by Lawrence Davidson

Part I—Going Backwards

Led by a reactionary, autocratic faction of the Republican Party, the United States has taken another step backward in terms of social progress. This comes with Donald Trump’s nomination of a religiously motivated conservative, Amy Coney Barrett, to the Supreme Court. Barrett, a devout Catholic and presently a federal appeals court judge, was nominated specifically at the behest of the president’s fundamentalist Christian supporters. They, in turn, are hell-bent (this term is employed purposely) on enforcing their moral sensibilities through secular law. 

I use the words “another step” because, in multiple different forms, this slippage has been going on for a while. It started with President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) and his confused idea that the problem with American society—a society of now over 300 million people, a poverty rate of at least 10.5%, no mandated health insurance, a place where national and state regulations were the only thing standing between the citizen and environmental degradation, an unhealthy workplace and economic instability—was the size and intrusive nature of the federal government.

With occasional but always temporary pauses, the country has been following this Reaganite campaign for small government ever since. How so? All the “intrusive” rules and regulations that protect the workplace, the environment and the economy, have come under attack from people wrapping themselves in the cloak of conservatism and championing a perverted notion of individual freedom. The whole national domestic orbit has been thrown into retrograde motion.

Donald Trump is the apparent culmination of this self-destructive process. Even before he ran for president on the Republican ticket, Trump was suspected of only masquerading as a conservative to secure a political base. Subsequently, he has been described as a misogynist, narcissist, congenital liar, bully, autocrat, and con man. Nonetheless, Trump was voted into the White House in 2016.

President Trump has turned the Republican Party into a rump affair remade in his own image, essentially purging all moderate Republicans from the party ranks. His singular achievements as president have been to make the rich richer, keep the poor poor, and render most of the population more vulnerable to a range of social, economic and environmental ills. He has also sought to befriend and defend every un-American, potentially criminal outfit in the country, ranging from the Nazis and anarchist armed militias to organized religious fanatics.

In essence, Trump seeks to do to the U.S. as a whole what he has done to the Republican Party. That is why a very large number of government agencies are now headed up by henchmen whose number one job is to cripple their own agencies. For those branches not so easily sabotaged, Trump seeks to find a way to load them up with those he believes will follow his lead. Presently, he is moving to do just that to the Supreme Court.

The unfortunate catalyst for this effort at court stacking is the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ginsburg personified for many the nation’s potential to move forward. She was a progressive figure who fought for civil rights, particularly those of women. As such, she became a symbol of resistance to the Trump administration’s efforts to move the Supreme Court to the right. Afflicted with cancer, Ginsburg was, alas, unable to outlive Donald Trump’s presidency. 

Now Trump seeks to replace her on the court with a candidate who, unlike President John Kennedy (a Catholic who was once falsely accused of being a tool of the Papacy), might indeed turn out to be more influenced by “orthodox” Catholicism than the U.S. Constitution. On the one hand, judge Barrett has asserted that legal careers ought to be seen “as a means to the end of serving God.” On the other, she says “I would stress that my personal church affiliation or my religious belief would not bear in the discharge of my duties as a judge.” These two statements are in direct contradiction. If the first is true, the second is certainly false. This is not the kind of conflict of interest you want for an arbiter of the U.S. Constitution.

Trump, of course, does not care about religion, nor has he read the U.S. Constitution, and thus is uninterested in a mandated separation of church and state. From Trump’s point of view, Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination was made not an act of religious faith or made on conservative principle, it is rather an act of political opportunism. With it Trump hopes to garner support in the impending election among a host of Christian fundamentalist voters who fantasize that he is an agent of God. For these fanatics, Barrett’s appointment to the court would serve as proof of this absurd conviction.   

America isn’t the only place such dangerous craziness can take place, but that offers little consolation. Just how depressed should we be due to this unfortunate turn of events? It depends on whether you take a long range or short range view. 

Part II—Short Range

Ginsburg’s death was a bad break at a time of serious confrontation between progressive and regressive forces. By this I refer to the next presidential election cycle and the question whether the country will be guided by the concepts of civil and human rights espoused during the 1960s. Will its citizens support the concepts of racial egalitarianism? Will they also uphold same sex-marriage, abortion rights, fair immigration rules, health care for all, and the ongoing struggle for rational gun control? Will they make the issue of climate change a major priority? Will the citizenry even maintain the traditional economic reforms instituted by Franklin Roosevelt in response to the Great Depression? In the short run, Trump’s ascendency, bolstered by millions of fundamentalist Christians (whose loyalty is to an anti-humanist religious ideology) and tens of thousands of libertarians and anarchists, makes these open questions. And now with Ginsburg’s demise, Trump will get another chance to undermine progressive standards with a reactionary appointment to the Supreme Court. 

Some might say that, despite such a court appointment, this retrograde movement will end after the upcoming November election. The assumption here is that Donald Trump and his rump Republican Party will lose the presidency and control of Congress. Then, after overcoming the illicit legal maneuvers and temper-tantrum violence the right attempts, the Democratic candidate, Joe Biden, will become president. At that point, presumably, he will begin to put the country back on a progressive path. Certainly, if Biden wins the presidency and the Democrats also win both houses of Congress, the potential for forward movement on all the issues mentioned above becomes possible. However, it is not guaranteed. 

Joe Biden’s present slogan of “Make America America Again”   can mean just about anything, but it seems not to imply making the nation more progressive than it was, say, under Barack Obama. Under Obama there was moderate progress on the issue of health care and the country was dragged out of yet another Republican-facilitated recession. On the other hand, under Obama, immigrants were deported in high numbers and drones were regularly hitting wedding parties and picnics in Afghanistan. 

Can Biden go beyond Obama in a forward direction? When you consider this question keep in mind more than the fact that the country will most likely be burdened by a screwed-up Supreme Court. Joe Biden himself has issues. He is a lifetime institutional politician—a guy who believes in, and plays by, long-established political rules. In this sense, he is Donald Trump’s opposite. Trump is willing to break all such rules, ostensibly to “make America great again.” Biden will reassert the primacy of tradition—that is, play by traditional political rules—and thereby “make America America again.” Doing so will not bring with it an era of greater progress—unless circumstances force Biden and the Democrat’s to take a “great leap forward.”

Part III—Long Range

Historically, what is usually needed to usher in significant progressive change? In our modern era such change usually follows catastrophes—mostly wars, disease and economic downturns. 

Modern wars and related military research are famous for providing leaps forward in technology. Everything from ambulance services, radar, and jet engines to intravenous blood transfusions, microwave ovens and duct tape comes to us through this route. Of course, war is a horrible way of motivating technological development. It is a truly murderous tradeoff. 

Epidemic diseases can spur medical progress. The outbreaks of viral epidemics such as MERS, AIDS and now Covid-19 have encouraged treatment research for virus infections and vaccine development. Again, it is death and debilitation that moves things forward at an accelerated rate. 

And then there is economic depression. In the U.S., progressive steps such as Social Security, collective bargaining and unionization, and various forms of necessary business regulation designed to prevent both corruption and instability followed the Great Depression (roughly 1929 

 to 1941). This catastrophic economic plunge, following decades of “boom and bust” instability, also encouraged the average citizen (minus some Republicans) to accept an activist government working for the interests of society as a whole.

There are other major stimuli to progressive change but they too tend to have their origins in dire circumstances such as long-term inequality, discrimination and exploitation. Over time these conditions spur uprisings that may overcome these socio-cultural evils. Martin Luther King’s civil rights movement is an example of how this works within a democracy. Today’s Black Lives Matter may also have potential to move us in a progressive direction.

Part IV—Going Forward

Assuming Joe Biden’s election to the presidency and Democratic control of both houses of Congress, is there a catastrophic circumstance that might push him to go beyond his stated goal of simply “Making America America Again”? Well we know that Covid-19 will still be with us in 2021 but the discovery process for a vaccine is already going very fast. Here Biden may do little more than relieve us all of Trump’s self-serving confusions and provide a more trustworthy, science-based platform for the curative process to proceed—which is something we should all be thankful for. Still, there might be another potentially catastrophic situation waiting around the corner. That possibility is continued economic breakdown and a painful restructuring process.

The U.S. is presently running a $170.5 billion budget deficit as well as a $63.6 billion trade deficit. The nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) or total worth of all production was down 31.7% in the second quarter of 2020. These figures will eventually necessitate an increase in taxes if the government is to be in a position to assist the citizenry in economic recovery. Trump, of course, has a regressive policy of as little taxation as possible and no help to the states or the citizens. 

The U.S. unemployment rate stands at 8.4%, which is down two percentage points as a marginal recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic took place. However, this proved temporary and the rate is now going up. Covid-19 led to a loss of 22 million jobs in the United States, and only about half of them have been recovered. Until there is an effective vaccine, not much additional progress on this front can be expected. 

Even with a vaccine, it might turn out that the pandemic has permanently changed the structure of the economy, making It unlikely that all of the lost jobs will come back. Even before Covid-19, retail was shifting to on-line sales to the detriment of normal retail stores and malls. The pandemic has greatly accelerated this movement. Work-from-home arrangements are leaving office space unoccupied and city-based luncheon eateries near empty. Overall, the restaurant business is shrinking. All of this will lead to higher levels of bankruptcies and unemployment for the foreseeable future. 

Under President Trump the approach to these changes would be to do nothing while claiming he was doing more than anyone else could or would do. Biden and the Democrats can be expected to be more proactive. This would hopefully go beyond the reestablishment of the programs and regulations Trump has destroyed. 

So what will Joe Biden do if he becomes president? He is not an original thinker. However, the worse the economy gets, the more violence from rightwing individuals and militias will manifest itself, and the more cases of police brutality there are, the more the Democrats will be pressured to institute progressive domestic reform (i.e. infrastructural renewal, debt reduction, police reforms, gun control, universal health care, etc.) I think we can count on these pressures persisting. 

Part V—Conclusion

The reader might have noticed a certain incompleteness in the above reasoning. That is, catastrophe can encourage regression as well as progression. Wars, pandemics and economic depressions have sometimes given rise to dictatorships and repression. Worse yet, quite often, this happens to the sound of cheering crowds.  

Throughout his presidency Trump has retained the support of roughly 35% of the U.S. adult population. Presently the adult population stands at 209,128,094, thus Trump supporters may number over 73 million citizens. That implies that even after four years of destructive behavior, these millions seem to still support the leadership of an incompetent authoritarian personality.

However, the entire adult population never actually votes. In the case of the United States a relatively large number of citizens are, like the permanently unemployed, no longer active in the political marketplace. That is, they pay little attention to electoral politics and don’t show up at the polls. In modern times it is rare that the percentage of eligible voters who actually turn out for presidential elections exceeds 60%. Using this number, that puts the actual voting population at 125,476,856. If we assume that 35% of this number supports Trump consistently, we get 43,916,899.

This may not be enough for Trump to win a second term as president—a fact that may actually save the country’s democracy. Yet this number is still very disturbing. The fact that just about 44 million Americans are willing to risk their democratic traditions and a relatively progressive future to follow a man without a conscience over a political cliff—an action that puts at risk not only their own country but, arguably, the entire planet—is certainly something to lose sleep over. Finally, this picture is not unique to the United States. It is probably true that one-third of any given population is susceptible to the overtures of a cult personality. 

Perhaps this last fact gives some insight into why history is full of civil and international disturbance. A large minority of any population is easily seduced into such engagements, dragging the rest of us along with them. That may help contextualize the choice U.S. citizens have come November 3rd. 

Why Is This Even a Story: Russians Allegedly Paid Afghans to Kill US Soldiers?

Source

June 29, 2020 Arabi Souri

Taliban Mujaheddin fighters in Afghanistan - Russia USSR USA

The New York Times is pushing this story, denied by Trump and his war ministry the Pentagon and his ‘intelligence’ services publicly, that Russia is running a plot paying bounties to Afghan recruits of Taliban and others to kill US troops in Afghanistan.

What were the Afghan Taliban and most of the Afghan fighters doing all the past 19 years exactly? Maybe distributing flowers to the US occupation troops who were giving them chocolate in return!

The New York Times Russia bounty to Afghan fighters to kill US troops
The New York Times Breaking News on an alleged Russian bounty to Afghan fighters to kill US troops.
This comes after Trump made some vague announcement on troop withdrawal from Afghanistan.

And, of course, the mainstream media jump to spread the explosive news that were uncovered by the ‘exceptional’ work of the New York Times:

Mainstream Media Hype on New York Times Russia bounty to Afghan fighters to kill US soldiers
Mainstream Media hype on New York Times Russia bounty to Afghan fighters to kill US soldiers story

That’s one side, what if Russia actually paid Afghan fighters to kill US soldiers? What’s wrong with that? Didn’t the US overtly arm the same Afghan fighters to kill Soviet troops in Afghanistan including with surface to air missiles paid for by the Saudis and the US taxpayers to shoot down Soviet planes and copters killing Russians?!

US President Ronald Reagan with Afghanistan Mujahideen plotting to kill Soviet Troops
US President Ronald Reagan with Afghanistan Mujahideen (later to be al-Qaeda) plotting to kill Soviet (mainly Russian) troops
Afghan Mujahideen al Qaeda US Surface to Air Missiles to Kill Russians and USSR Soldiers
Afghan Mujahideen al Qaeda US Surface to Air Missiles to Kill Russians and USSR Soldiers

Just a reminder to the USAians: Afghanistan was directly on the Soviet Union southern borders; the USA is across the planet, like literally on the other side of the planet, if you look at the globe and find the USA just look at the other side of the globe and you’ll find Afghanistan. Flat-Earthers: The USA is a 1 full day, that’s 24 hours trip from New York (the closest city on the eastern US coast) to Afghanistan!

The USA considers Venezuela and all of Central America and South America as their backyard and they share borders only with Mexico, Russia is 4 hours flight from Afghanistan and that’s from Kabul to Moscow, not the distance between two border cities and not the closest two points…

New York to Kabul flight - google search
New York to Kabul flight – Google search

Also a reminder to USAians, during her confirmation hearings Clinton bragged that the US created al Qaeda and armed al Qaeda and that this was a good idea.https://www.youtube.com/embed/Dqn0bm4E9yw

It’s only because the US presidential elections race has started and they want to confirm that Trump is a Russian asset, the thing they failed to prove in their lengthy costly ridiculous Muller investigations that revealed so many other things except this one. And this is not to defend Trump, he’s a lunatic war criminal, rather fearing he will impose more sanctions on Russia and push the already tense relations into further escalation to prove he’s not a Russian asset, just like how they played him all the past almost 4 years on every single subject they wanted him to act as tough on, remember his orders to withdraw from Syria?

image-A 70 Years Old President of the USA Donald J. Trump
A 70 Years Old President of the USA Donald J. Trump

Can we talk about the direct and indirect overt and covert aid the USA and all its stooges and lackeys (Turkey, Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Australians, Gulfies, Canada, Denmark, Israel…) gave to terrorists of Al-Qaeda and all its derivatives (FSA, Nusra Front, HTS, ISISFaylaq RahmanMaghawir Thawra, Khalid Army, Jaysh Al-Islam, Turkestan Islamist Party……..) to kill and maim Syrian soldiers and Syrian civilians in Syria? Iraqis in Iraq? Lebanese in Lebanon? Libyans in Libya? Iranians in Iran? …. in ….?

The Pentagon Threatening to Revive ISIS

Reaffirming the Revolution: The Islamic Republic of Iran at 41

By Yuram Abdullah Weiler

Source

Qasem Soleimani in 2017 rally b3707

In number theory, 41 is a prime number meaning it is not divisible by any number except itself and one.  Similarly, the Islamic Revolution in Iran so far has been unique in its success and indivisible unity of purpose, despite numerous attempts at sabotage by external and internal actors.  At this prime age of 41, Iran is fully capable of charting an assertive leadership path to recapture the spirit and reaffirm the original goals of the Islamic Revolution of 1979, among which is the propagation of Islam to bring about social change for the welfare of all humanity.[2]

It is no minor accomplishment for the Islamic Republic of Iran to have maintained an independent geopolitical course for a period of forty one years in spite of the overwhelming diplomatic, economic and military pressure employed by the United States to force Tehran to cave in to the diktats of the Washington regime. Even before the erstwhile shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, had fled the country on January 17, 1979, U.S. air force general Robert E. “Dutch” Huyser had arrived on January 3rd on a mission to test the waters for a rerun of the August 1953 coup, which had originally placed the U.S.-backed dictator in power in the first place.[3]

With the victory of the Islamic Revolution on February 11, 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini (r) went on to found an Islamic Republic, whose constitution (Article 154) explicitly states that Iran “is concerned with the welfare of humanity as a whole and takes independence, liberty and sovereignty of justice and righteousness as the right of people in the world over.”  Imam Khomeini was very clear in his view that “Islam is revealed for mankind,” and, therefore, the revolution must be exported.[4] This concept, which raised fears of popular uprisings toppling the U.S.-abetted tyrants in the region and beyond, put the nascent Islamic Republic on a collision course with the Washington regime.  Among the despotic leaders shaken by Iran’s Islamic Revolution was the U.S.-supported Iraqi dictator, Saddam, who denounced Imam Khomeini and called upon Iranian Arabs to revolt.[5]

If external threats to the newly-established Islamic Republic weren’t enough, others arose internally. Massoumeh Ebtekar, who witnessed the revolution firsthand and is currently Vice President of Iran for Women and Family Affairs, recalled that “we were sure that foreign elements were actively involved in attempts to weaken and undermine the young republic.” To avert the suspected foreign plot to overthrow the Iranian government, a group of students, including now Vice President Ebtekar, decided to act, and on November 4, 1979 occupied the U.S. embassy in Tehran and detained the staff.[6]  U.S. president Jimmy Carter responded ten days later by freezing US $12 billion’s worth of Iran’s assets in the U.S., and later banned all trade with and travel to Iran.[7] Also affected were Iranian assets in U.S. banks in Britain, much of which were in Bank of America’s London branch.[8]  The following year on April 7, the U.S. cut diplomatic relations with Iran, and has never reinstated them.[9]  If Carter had not allowed the deposed shah entry to the U.S., the embassy takeover most likely would not have occurred.[10]

Another internal threat, the Mujahedin-e Khalq (MeK), was openly unhappy over the constitution, which, according to them, did not address their demands.  After a humiliating defeat in the March and May 1980 parliamentary elections (no MeK candidates were elected),[11] the MeK became increasingly belligerent over their lack of position in the new government, directing their frustration ever more violently towards members of the Islamic Republic Party (IRP), which had won a decisive victory in the elections.  Despite the electoral defeat, the MeK openly backed Iran’s first president, Abolhassan Bani Sadr, however, following his removal from office for incompetency in June 1981, the MeK declared an armed struggle against the standing government. On June 28, 1981 and again on August 30, the MeK carried out terror bombing attacks against the IRP and government leaders.  In 1986, the MeK moved its operations to Iraq and aligned itself with Saddam, who backed the terrorist group until being ousted by the U.S. invasion in 2003. To date, the Washington regime views the MeK as a viable means by which to overthrow the legitimate government of Iran.[12]

Following the student takeover of the U.S. embassy, which was later shown to be a nerve center for CIA espionage in the region,[13] U.S. president Carter ordered a desperate mission on April 24, 1980 to invade Iran and free the hostages despite negotiations for their release still being in progress.[14] The so-called hostage crisis and the U.S. president’s failed interventionist response provided a perpetual pretext for Washington’s vehemently vindictive view against reestablishing any level of diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran.  The 444-day crisis, according to sworn testimony by Israeli intelligence agent Ari Ben-Menashe, was a joint effort by the CIA and Mossad to delay the release of the 52 hostages and thereby ensure an electoral victory for Ronald Reagan in the 1980 U.S. presidential race.[15]

In the midst of the post-revolutionary struggle to establish a fully functioning Islamic government, Iraqi dictator Saddam, with U.S. blessing, attacked the fledgling Islamic Republic on September 22, 1980, imposing a costly 8-year-long war that consumed some 60 to 70 percent of Iran’s national budget, not to mention the suffering of the Iranian people and their sacrifices in defense of Iran and Islam.[16]  The economic impact of the war on Iran itself was enormous with estimated direct costs in the range of US $600 billion and total cost of US $1 trillion.[17]  In the course of this U.S.-supported war, chemical agents were used extensively for the first time since the First World War, resulting in the deaths of some 4,700 Iranians in a single attack.  The U.S. also provided Saddam with biological agents such as anthrax and E. coli.[18]

Howard Teicher, director of political-military affairs for the U.S. National Security Council from 1982 to 1987, in an affidavit stated, “CIA Director [William] Casey personally spearheaded the effort to ensure that Iraq had sufficient military weapons, ammunition and vehicles to avoid losing the Iran-Iraq war.” Teicher also testified that U.S. president Reagan had sent a secret message to Saddam advising him that “Iraq should step up its air war and bombing of Iran.”  Teicher’s sworn testimony provides strong evidence that the U.S. intent was for Saddam to bomb Iranian cities, thereby unavoidably targeting civilians.[19]

Saddam followed Reagan’s advice to the letter by launching eleven SCUD B missiles at Tehran on February 29, 1988.  Over the next two weeks, more than 100 of Saddam’s missiles rained down upon the cities of Tehran, Qom and Isfahan along with bombing raids conducted against a total of 37 Iranian cities. Earlier in October 1987 and again in April 1988, the U.S. as part of its overt but undeclared war against the Islamic Republic, attacked Iranian ships and oil platforms under expanded rules of engagement.[20]  As a result of Washington’s designation of the Persian Gulf as essentially a free-fire zone for Iranian targets, the commander of the USS Vincennes, William C. Rogers, fired two missiles (after twenty-three failed attempts)[21] at what he claimed was a military target but in fact was Iran Air Flight 655 carrying 290 civilian passengers from Bandar Abbas to Dubai.  For downing the civilian airliner and killing all on board, Rogers was awarded the Legion of Merit “for exceptionally meritorious service” for this appalling atrocity.[22]

Yet in spite of the near universal support given by the U.S. and its western minions to Saddam, the people of Iran rose up to defend their newly liberated land in what were termed “human wave attacks” in the western press. Giving their lives selflessly in the cause of defending Islam and Iran, these martyrs, whose numbers reached to half a million,[23] struck fear in the black heart of Saddam and presented a conundrum to the materialistic west.  Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Rahbar explains that martyrdom, while clearly understood in the Islamic world, “is incomprehensible and even pointless in materialist and atheistic cultures.”[24]

The incomprehensibility to most westerners of the spiritual basis of Iran’s Islamic Revolution leads to some interesting “anti-explanations.”  Professor of Sociology at the University of North Carolina Charles Kurzman wrote, “After the Iranian Revolution, those who had considered the upheaval unthinkable became preoccupied with understanding how they could have been so mistaken.” After pointing out the shortcomings of the various political, economic, cultural and other explanations, Kurzman notes, “The more I learned about the Iranian Revolution, the more theoretical anomalies I discovered.” Yet this author acknowledges that 55 percent of educated, middle-class Iranians and 71 percent of others he interviewed spoke of Islam as being involved in their decision to participate in the revolution.[25]

Apparently, for secular-leaning western scholars, Islam cannot be accepted as the basis for an explanation of a successful revolution. For example, even Iranian expatriate scholar Ervand Abrahamian blames the Islamic Revolution on “overwhelming pressures” in Iranian society due to the shah, who “was sitting on such a volcano, having alienated almost every sector of society.”[26]  Downplaying the role of Islam in Iran’s revolution, Iranian expatriate scholar Asef Bayat insists that there was a “strong secular tendency,” which peaked in the 1970s.  Bayat incredulously claims, “In Iran, an Islamic movement was in the making when it was interrupted by the Islamic revolution.”[27]  Other scholars date the origin of the Islamic movement in Iran to the tobacco crisis of 1890-1891, while Farhang Rejaee, a professor at the Carleton Centre for the Study of Islam in Ottawa, Canada, points to the assassination of Nasr al-Din Shah in 1896.[28]

The current Islamic movement in Iran had begun on the 15th of Khordad, 1342 (June 5, 1963), predating the Islamic Revolution by some 15 years.  In a June 1979 speech marking the anniversary of the 15th of Khordad uprising, Imam Khomeini specifically referred to the Islamic movement and its creation in the mosque network.  “Who are they that wish to divert our Islamic movement from Islam?” asked the Imam. “It was the mosques that created this revolution,” he emphasized, adding. “It was the mosques that brought this [Islamic] movement into being.”[29]  Likewise refuting the theories of the western and westernized scholars, Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Rahbar explains, “The secret of success of the Islamic Revolution of Iran also is naught but this: valuing the high ideals of Islam and of the Islamic humanities.”  As to the failure of other revolutions, he blames “want of a sufficient depth in its spiritual dimension.”  Finally, he affirms, “The revolutionary experience of Iran should indeed become a model for others to emulate.”[30]

By basing economics and social change on the solid foundation of Islam, Iran has achieved greater progress in many areas, such as reducing poverty, improving health care, eliminating illiteracy, increasing access to education and expanding opportunities for women, than had been the case during the shah’s regime.   As a result, despite the unending U.S. hostility against Iran through ruthless imposed wars, covert and overt aggressions, punitive economic sanctions and continuous diplomatic isolation, the Islamic Republic has managed to amass an impressive list of accomplishments.  U.S. economic sanctions have had the effect of causing Iran to seek self-sufficiency in a number of areas, including weaponry and other military hardware, food production, steel, paper and paper products, cement, heavy industrial machinery, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications equipment. In particular, the domestic production of armaments has helped to ensure the country’s independence and security, as has the highly developed military strategy of the “fast boat swarm” for naval defense in the Persian Gulf.[31]

Moreover, in the field of health care, Iran has made laudable strides, increasing life expectancy from 56 years in the 1970s to over 70, and reducing the infant mortality rate from 104 per 1,000 births to 25.[32]  The Islamic Republic has created, and continuously expanded, a system of hospitals and health clinics, concentrating on areas impacted by economic hardship.  The results have been sufficiently impressive for some universities and NGOs in the U.S. state of Mississippi to introduce Iranian-style health care into the impoverished areas of the Mississippi Delta region.[33] Rural areas also benefitted from the revolution in other ways besides access to health care.  By 2002, rural literacy had risen to 70 percent, each village had an average of two college graduates, and 99 percent of rural households had electricity. In 1976 only ten percent of the rural work force was employed in the industrial, construction and service sectors, whereas 51 percent was employed therein by 1996.[34] Land was redistributed among peasants, who formed numerous cooperatives, which assisted in raising prices for agricultural products.  Even the poorest of Iranians were able to have at least some level of access to modern consumer goods.[35]

“The biggest advances in the educational, professional and social standing of women in Iran’s history have come since the revolution,” wrote scholars Hillary Mann and Flynt Leverett.[36] After the victory of the Islamic Revolution, female literacy rates skyrocketed from 36 percent in 1976 to 74 percent in 1996, with urban women toping 82 percent.[37] Women were provided with the same educational opportunities as men, and were employed in both the public and private sectors.  Not only were women allowed to drive (unlike other “Islamic” countries), but also participated in political, commercial and civil activities, as well as in the security sector.  Health care in the Islamic Republic included women’s clinics, where progressive family planning and other services were available.[38]

“This united gathering which took place in Iran, and this great change which happened, must be taken as an example to be followed and never forgotten,” said Imam Khomeini (r) on 7th of Esfand 1359 (26 February 1981). [39] Despite that to date, no other Muslim-majority nation has yet to emulate successfully the revolutionary path taken by the valiant people of Iran, the paradigm remains as does the potential for Iran’s leadership to bring about a united Islamic Ummah.

Afghanistan, the Forgotten Proxy War. The Role of Osama bin Laden and Zbigniew Brzezinski

Part II

Global Research, May 08, 2019

Read Part I from the link below.

Afghanistan, the Forgotten Proxy War

By Janelle Velina, April 30, 2019

Below is the second half and conclusion of “Afghanistan, the Forgotten Proxy War”. While the previous sections examined the economic roots of imperialism, as well as the historical context of the Cold War within which to situate the Mujahideen, the following explores the anatomy of proxy warfare and media disinformation campaigns which were at the heart of destabilizing Afghanistan. These were also a large part of why there was little to no opposition to the Mujahideen from the Western ‘left’, whose continued dysfunctionality cannot be talked about without discussing Zbigniew Brzezinski. We also take a look at what led to the Soviet Union’s demise and how that significantly affected the former Democratic Republic of Afghanistan and many other parts of the world. The United States has been at war in Afghanistan for four decades now, and it will reach its 40th year on July 3, 2019. 

The original “moderate rebel”

One of the key players in the anti-Soviet, U.S.-led regime change project against Afghanistan was Osama bin Laden, a Saudi-born millionaire who came from a wealthy, powerful family that owns a Saudi construction company and has had close ties to the Saudi royal family. Before becoming known as America’s “boogeyman”, Osama bin Laden was put in charge of fundraising for the Mujahideen insurgents, creating numerous charities and foundations in the process and working in coordination with Saudi intelligence (who acted as liaisons between the fighters and the CIA). Journalist Robert Fisk even gave bin Laden a glowing review, calling him a “peace warrior” and a philanthropist in a 1993 report for the Independent. Bin Laden also provided recruitment for the Mujahideen and is believed to have also received security training from the CIA. And in 1989, the same year that Soviet troops withdrew, he founded the terrorist organization Al Qaeda with a number of fighters he had recruited to the Mujahideen. Although the PDPA had already been overthrown, and the Soviet Union was dissolved, he still maintained his relationship with the CIA and NATO, working with them from the mid-to-late 1990s to provide support for the secessionist Bosnian paramilitaries and the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) in the destruction and dismantling of Yugoslavia.

The United States would eventually turn Bin Laden into a scapegoat after the 2001 terrorist attacks, while still maintaining ties to his family and providing arms, training, and funding to Al Qaeda and its affiliates (rebranded as “moderate rebels” by the Western media) in its more recent regime change project against Syria, which started in 2011. The Mujahideen not only gave birth to Al Qaeda, but it would set a precedent for the United States’ regime-change operations in later years against the anti-imperialist governments of Libya and Syria.

Reagan entertains Mujahideen fighters in the White House.

With the end to the cycle of World Wars (for the time being, at least), it has become increasingly common for the United States to use local paramilitaries, terrorist groups, and/or the armed forces of comprador regimes to fight against nations targeted by U.S. capital interests. Why the use of proxy forces? They are, as Whitney Webb describes, “a politically safe tool for projecting the U.S.’ geopolitical will abroad.”
Using proxy warfare as a kind of power projection tool is, first and foremost, cost-effective, since paid local mercenaries or terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda will bear the burden of combat and casualties rather than American troops in places like Libya and Syria. For example, it costs much less to pay local paramilitaries, gangs, crime syndicates, terrorist groups, and other reactionary forces to perform the same military operations as U.S. troops. Additionally, with the advent of nuclear weapons it became much more perilous for global superpowers to come into direct combat with one another — if the Soviet Union and the United States had done so, there existed the threat of “mutually assured destruction”, the strong possibility of instantaneous and catastrophic damage to the populations and the economic and living standards of both sides, something neither side was willing to risk, even if it was U.S. imperialism’s ultimate goal to destroy the Soviet Union.
And so, the U.S. was willing to use any other means necessary to weaken the Soviet Union and safeguard its profits, which included eliminating the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan even if it had neither the intent nor the means of launching a military offensive on American soil. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union had the means of producing a considerably large supply of modern weapons, including nuclear deterrents, to counter the credible threat posed by the United States. To strike the Soviet Union with nuclear missiles would have been a great challenge for the United States, since it would have resulted in overwhelming retaliation by the Soviet Union. To maneuver this problem, to assure the destruction of the Soviet Union while protecting the U.S. from similar destruction, the CIA relied on more unconventional methods not previously thought of as being part of traditional warfare, such as funding proxy forces while wielding economic and cultural influence over the American domestic sphere and the international scene.

Furthermore, proxy warfare enables control of public opinion, thus allowing the U.S. government to escape public scrutiny and questions about legal authorization for war. With opposition from the general public essentially under control, consent for U.S.-led wars does not need to be obtained, especially when the U.S. military is running them from “behind the scenes” and its involvement looks less obvious. Indeed, the protests against the war on Vietnam in the United States and other Western countries saw mass turnouts.

And while the U.S.-led aggression in Vietnam did involve proxy warfare to a lesser degree, it was still mostly fought with American “boots-on-the-ground”, much like the 2001 renewed U.S.-led aggression against Afghanistan and the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In contrast, the U.S. assault on Afghanistan that began in 1979 saw little to no protest. The Mujahideen even garnered support from large portions of the Western left who joined the chorus of voices in the Western mainstream media in demonizing the PDPA — a relentless imperialist propaganda campaign that would be repeated in later years during the U.S. wars on Libya and Syria, with the difference being that social media had not yet gained prominence at the time of the initial assault on Afghanistan. This leads to the next question: why recruit some of the most reactionary social forces abroad, many of whom represent complete backwardness?

In Afghanistan, such forces proved useful in the mission to topple the modernizing government of the PDPA, especially when their anti-modernity aspirations intersected with U.S. foreign policy; these ultra-conservative forces continue to be deployed by the United States today. In fact, the long war on Afghanistan shares many striking similarities with the long war on Syria, with the common theme of U.S. imperialism collaborating with violent Sunni extremists to topple the secular, nationalist and anti-imperialist governments of these two former ‘Soviet bloc’ countries. And much like the PDPA, the current and long-time government of the Ba’ath Arab Socialist Party in Syria has made many strides towards achieving national liberation and economic development, which have included: taking land from aristocratic families (a majority of whom were Sunni Muslims while Shia Muslims, but especially Alawites, traditionally belonged to the lower classes and were treated as second class citizens in pre-Ba’athist Syria) and redistributing and nationalizing it, making use of Syria’s oil and gas reserves to modernize the country and benefit its population, and upholding women’s rights as an important part of the Ba’athist pillars.

Some of these aristocratic landlords, just like their Afghan counterparts, would react violently and join the Muslim Brotherhood who, with CIA-backing, carried out acts of terrorism and other atrocities in Hama as they made a failed attempt to topple the government of Hafez al Assad in 1982.

The connection between the two is further solidified by the fact that it was the Mujahideen from which Al Qaeda emerged; both are inspired by Wahhabist ideology, and one of their chief financiers is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (as well as Israel, a regional imperial power and a key ally of the United States). In either case, these Wahhabi-inspired forces were vehemently opposed to modernization and development, and would much rather keep large sections of the population impoverished, as they sought to replace the PDPA and the Ba’athists with Sunni fundamentalist, anti-Shia, theological autocracies — Saudi-style regimes, in other words.

These reactionary forces are useful tools in the CIA’s anti-communist projects and destabilization campaigns against independent nationalist governments, considering that the groups’ anti-modernity stance is a motivating factor in their efforts to sabotage economic development, which is conducive to ensuring a favourable climate for U.S. capital interests. It also helps that these groups already saw the nationalist governments of the PDPA and the Syrian Ba’ath party as their ‘archenemy’, and would thus fight them to the death and resort to acts of terrorism against the respective civilian populations.

Zbigniew Brzezinski stated in a 1998 interview with Le Nouvel Observateur in response to the following question:

Q: And neither do you regret having supported the Islamic fundamentalism, having given arms and advice to future terrorists?

[Brzezinski]: What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?

Once again, he makes it clear that the religious extremism of the Mujahideen fighters was not an issue for Washington because the real political value lay in eliminating the PDPA and putting an end to Soviet influence in the Greater Middle East, which would give the U.S. the opportunity to easily access and steal the country’s wealth. And in order to justify the U.S. imperialist intervention in Afghanistan, as well as to obscure the true nature of the Mujahideen fighters, the intervention needed to be accompanied by a rigorous mass media campaign. The Reagan administration — knowing full well that American mainstream media has international influence — continued the war that the Carter administration started and saw it as an opportunity to “step up” its domestic propaganda war, considering that the American general public was still largely critical of the Vietnam War at the time.

As part of the aggressive imperialist propaganda campaign, anyone who dared to publicly criticize the Mujahideen was subjected to character assassination and was pejoratively labelled a “Stalinist” or a “Soviet apologist”, which are akin to labels such as “Russian agent” or “Assadist” being used as insults today against those who speak out against the U.S.-backed terrorism in Syria. There were also careful rebranding strategies made specifically for Osama bin Laden and the Mujahideen mercenaries, who were hailed as “revolutionary freedom fighters” and given a romantic, exoticized “holy warrior” makeover in Western media; hence the title of this section. The Mujahideen mercenaries were even given a dedication title card at the end of the Hollywood movie Rambo III which read, “This film is dedicated to the brave Mujahideen fighters of Afghanistan”; the film itself added to the constructed romantic image as it portrayed the Mujahideen fighters as heroes, while the Soviet Union and the PDPA were portrayed as the cartoonish villains. The Rambo film franchise is well known for its depiction of the Vietnamese as “savages” and as the aggressors in the U.S. war on Vietnam, which is a blatant reversal of the truth.

The Hollywood blockbuster franchise would be used to make the Mujahideen more palatable to Western audiences, as this unabashed, blatantly anti-Soviet propaganda for U.S. imperialism attracted millions of viewers with one of the largest movie marketing campaigns of the time. Although formulaic, the films are easily consumable because they appeal to emotion and, as Michael Parenti states in Dirty Truths, “The entertainment industry does not merely give the people what they want: it is busy shaping those wants,” (p. 111). Rambo III may not have been critically acclaimed, but it was still the second most commercially successful film in the Rambo series, grossing a total of $189,015,611 at the box office. Producing war propaganda films is nothing new and has been a long staple of the Hollywood industry, which serves capitalist and imperialist interests. But, since the blockbuster movie is one of the most widely available and distributed forms of media, repackaging the Mujahideen into a popular film franchise was easily one of the best ways (albeit cynical) to justify the war, maintaining the American constructed narrative and reinforcing the demonization campaign against Soviet Russia and the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. Now, outside of the cinema, CBS News went as far as to air fake battle footage meant to help perpetuate the myth that the Mujahideen mercenaries were “freedom fighters”; American journalists Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, although decidedly biased against the Soviet Union and its allies, documented this ruse in which the news channel participated. In terms of proxy warfare, these were just some of the ways used to distract from the fact that it was a U.S.-led war.

The dedication title card as it originally appeared at the end of the film Rambo III.

In Afghanistan, proxy forces provided a convenient cover because they drew attention away from the fact that U.S. imperialism was the root cause of the conflict. The insurgents also helped to demonize the targets of U.S. foreign policy, the PDPA and the Soviet Union, all the while doing the majority of the physical combat in place of the American military. In general, drawing attention away from the fact that it has been the United States “pulling the strings” all along, using proxy forces helps Washington to maintain plausible deniability in regard to its relationship with such groups. If any one of these insurgents becomes a liability, as what had happened with the Taliban, they can just as easily be disposed of and replaced by more competent patsies, while U.S. foreign policy goes unquestioned. Criminal gangs and paramilitary forces are thus ideal and convenient tools for U.S. foreign policy. With the rule of warlords and the instability (namely damage to infrastructure, de-industrialization, and societal collapse) that followed after the toppling of the PDPA, Afghanistan’s standard of living dropped rapidly, leading to forced mass migrations and making the country all the more vulnerable to a more direct U.S. military intervention — which eventually did happen in 2001.

Zbigniew Brzezinski: godfather of colour revolutions and proxy wars, architect of the Mujahideen

The late Brzezinski was a key figure in U.S. foreign policy and a highly influential figure in the Council on Foreign Relations. Although the Polish-American diplomat and political scientist was no longer the National Security Advisor under Ronald Reagan’s presidency, he still continued to play a prominent role in enforcing U.S. foreign policy goals in upholding Washington’s global monopoly. The liberal Cold War ideologue’s signature strategy consisted of using the CIA to destabilize and force regime-change onto countries whose governments actively resisted against Washington. Such is the legacy of Brzezinski, whose strategy of funding the most reactionary anti-government forces to foment chaos and instability while promoting them as “freedom fighters” is now a longstanding staple of U.S. imperialism.

How were the aggressive propaganda campaigns which promoted the Mujahideen mercenaries as “freedom fighters” able to garner support for the aggression against the former Democratic Republic of Afghanistan from so many on the Western left who had previously opposed the war on Vietnam? It was the through the CIA’s use of ‘soft-power’ schemes, because leftist opinion also needed to be controlled and manipulated in the process of carrying out U.S. foreign and public policy. Brzezinski mastered the art of targeting intelligentsia and impressionable young people in order to make them supportive of U.S. foreign policy, misleading a significant number of people into supporting U.S.-led wars.

The CIA invested money into programs that used university campus, anti-Soviet “radical leftist activists” and academics (as well as artists and writers) to help spread imperialist propaganda dressed up in vaguely “leftist”-sounding language and given a more “hip”, “humanitarian”, “social justice”, “free thinker” appeal. Western, but especially American, academia has since continued to teach the post-modernist “oppression theory” or “privilege theory” to students, which is anti-Marxist and anti-scientific at its core. More importantly, this post-modernist infiltration was meant to distract from class struggle, to help divert any form of solidarity away from anti-imperialist struggles, and to foster virulent animosity towards the Soviet Union among students and anyone with ‘leftist’ leanings. Hence the phenomenon of identity politics that continues to plague the Western left today, whose strength was effectively neutered by the 1970s. Not only that, but as Gowans mentions in his book, Patriots, Traitors and Empires: The Story of Korea’s Struggle for Freedom:

“U.S. universities recruit talented individuals from abroad, instill in them the U.S. imperialist ideology and values, and equip them with academic credentials which conduce to their landing important political positions at home. In this way, U.S. imperial goals indirectly structure the political decision-making of other countries.” (pp. 52-53)

And so we have agencies and think-tanks such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) which has scholarly appeal and actively interferes in elections abroad — namely, in countries that are targets of U.S. foreign policy. Founded in 1983 by Reagan and directed by the CIA, the agency also assists in mobilizing coups and paid “dissidents” in U.S.-led regime change projects, such as the 2002 failed attempt against Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, as well as helping to create aggressive media campaigns that demonize targeted nations. Another instance of this “soft power” tactic of mobilizing U.S.-backed “dissidents” in targeted nations are the number of Sunni Islamic fundamentalist madrassas (schools) sponsored by the CIA and set up by Wahhabi missionaries from Saudi Arabia in Afghanistan — which started to appear in increasing numbers during the 1980s, reaching over 39,000 during the decade. Afghanistan’s public education institutions were largely secular prior to the fall of Kabul in 1992; these madrassas were the direct, ideological and intellectual antitheses to the existing institutions of education. The madrassas acted as centres for cult-like brainwashing and were essentially CIA covert psychological operations (psy-ops) intended to inspire divisiveness and demobilize younger generations of Afghans in the face of imperial onslaught so that they would not unite with the wider PDPA-led nationalist resistance to imperialism.

The NED’s founding members were comprised of Cold War ideologues which included Brzezinski himself, as well as Trotskyists who provided an endless supply of slurs against the Soviet Union. It was chiefly under this agency, and with direction provided by Brzezinski, that America produced artists, “activists”, academics, and writers who presented themselves as “radical leftists” and slandered the Soviet Union and countries that were aligned with it — which was all part of the process of toppling them and subjugating them to U.S. free market fundamentalism. With Brzezinski having mastered the art of encouraging postmodernism and identity politics among the Western left in order to weaken it, the United States not only had military and economic might on its side but also highly sophisticated ideological instruments to help give it the upper hand in propaganda wars.

These “soft power” schemes are highly effective in masking the brutality of U.S. imperialism, as well as concealing the exploitation of impoverished nations. Marketing the Mujahideen mercenaries as “peace warriors” while demonizing the PDPA and referring to the Soviet assistance as an “invasion” or “aggression” marked the beginning of the regular use of “humanitarian” pretexts for imperialist interventions. The Cold War era onslaught against Afghanistan can thus be seen as the template for the NATO-led regime change projects against Yugoslavia, Libya, and Syria, which not only involved the use of U.S.-backed proxy forces but also “humanitarian” pretexts being presented in the aggressive propaganda campaigns against the targeted countries. It was not until 2002, however, that then-American UN representative Samantha Powers, as well as several U.S.-allied representatives, would push the United Nations to officially adopt the “Responsibility to Protect” (R2P) doctrine into the Charter — which was in direct contradiction to the law that recognizes the violation of a nation’s sovereignty as a crime. The R2P doctrine was born out of the illegal 78-day NATO air-bombing of Yugoslavia from March 24 to June 10, 1999. And although plans to dismantle Yugoslavia go as far back as 1984, it was not until much of the 1990s that NATO would begin openly intervening — with more naked aggression — starting with the funding and support for secessionist paramilitary forces in Bosnia between 1994-1995. It then sealed the 1999 destruction of Yugoslavia with with the balkanization of the Serbian province of Kosovo. In addition to the use of terrorist and paramilitary groups as proxy forces which received CIA-training and funding, another key feature of this “humanitarian” intervention was the ongoing demonization campaigns against the Serbs, who were at the centre of a vicious Western media propaganda war. Some of the most egregious parts of these demonization campaigns — which were tantamount to slander and libel — were the claims that the Serbs were “committing genocide” against ethnic Albanians. The NATO bombing campaign was illegal since it was given no UN Security Council approval or support.

Once again, Brzezinski was not the National Security Advisor during the U.S.-led campaign against Yugoslavia. However, he still continued to wield influence as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a private organization and Wall Street think tank. The Council on Foreign Relations is intertwined with highly influential NGOs who are essentially propaganda mouthpieces for U.S. foreign policy, such as Human Rights Watch, which has fabricated stories of atrocities allegedly committed by countries targeted by U.S. imperialism. Clearly, unmitigated U.S. imperial aggression did not end with the destruction of the former Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, nor with the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The post-Cold War years were a continuation of U.S. imperialism’s scramble for more spheres of influence and global domination; it was also a scramble for what was left of the former ‘Soviet bloc’ and Warsaw Pact. The dismantling of Yugoslavia was, figuratively speaking, the ‘final nail in the coffin’ of whatever ‘Soviet influence’ was left in Eastern Europe.

The demise of the Soviet Union and the “Afghan trap” question

Image on the right: Left to right: former Afghan President Babrak Karmal, and former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. Karmal took office at around the same time (December 1979) the PDPA requested that Moscow intervene to assist the besieged Afghanistan.

The sabotage and subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union meant that only one global hegemon remained, and that was the United States. Up until 1989, the Soviet Union had been the barrier that was keeping the United States from launching a more robust military intervention in Afghanistan, as well as in Central and West Asia. While pulling out did not immediately cause the defeat of Kabul as the PDPA government forces continued to struggle for another three years, Mikhail Gorbachev’s decision to withdraw Soviet troops arguably had a detrimental impact on Afghanistan for many years to come. Although there was no Soviet military assistance in the last three years of Najibullah’s presidency, Afghanistan continued to receive aid from the USSR, and some Soviet military advisers (however limited in their capacity) still remained; despite the extreme difficulties, and combined with the nation’s still-relatively high morale, this did at least help to keep the government from being overthrown immediately. This defied U.S. expectations as the CIA and the George H.W. Bush administration had believed that the government of Najibullah would fall as soon as Soviet troops were withdrawn. But what really hurt the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan’s army was when the Soviet Union was dismantled in 1991; almost as soon as the dissolution happened and Boris Yeltsin (with U.S. backing) took over as Russia’s president, the aid stopped coming and the government forces became unable to hold out for much longer. The U.S. aggression was left unchecked, and to this day Afghanistan has not seen geopolitical stability and has since been a largely impoverished ‘failed state’, serving as a training ground for terrorist groups such as ISIS and Al Qaeda. It continues to be an anarchic battleground between rival warlords which include the ousted Taliban and the U.S. puppet government that replaced them.

But, as was already mentioned above, the “Afghan trap” did not, in and of itself, cause the dismantling of the Soviet Union. In that same interview with Le Nouvel Observateur, Brzezinski had this to say in response to the question about setting the “trap”:

Q: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into war and looked to provoke it?

[Brzezinski]: It isn’t quite that. We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.

Likewise with Cuba and Syria, the USSR had a well-established alliance with the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, one of mutual aid and partnership. Answering Kabul’s explicit request for assistance was a deliberate and conscious choice made by Moscow, and it just so happened that the majority of Afghans welcomed it. For any errors that Leonid Brezhnev, the General Secretary at the time, may have made (which do deserve a fair amount of criticism, but are not the focus of this article), the 1979 decision to intervene on behalf of Afghanistan against U.S. imperialism was not one of them. It is true that both the Soviet and the U.S. interventions were military interventions, but the key difference is that the U.S. was backing reactionary forces for the purposes of establishing colonial domination and was in clear violation of Afghan sovereignty. Consider, too, that Afghanistan had only deposed of its king in 1973, just six years before the conflict began. The country may have moved quickly to industrialize and modernize, but it wasn’t much time to fully develop its military defenses by 1979.

Image below: Mikhail Gorbachev accepts the Nobel Peace Prize from George H.W. Bush on October 15, 1990. Many Russians saw this gesture as a betrayal, while the West celebrated it, because he was being awarded for his capitulation to U.S. imperialism in foreign and economic policy.

Other than that, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the Soviet Union imploded due to an accumulating number of factors: namely, the gradual steps that U.S. foreign policy had taken over the years to cripple the Soviet economy, especially after the deaths of Brezhnev and Yuri Andropov. How Gorbachev responded during the U.S.-led onslaught against Afghanistan certainly helped to exacerbate the conditions that led to the dissolution. After the deaths of Brezhnev and Andropov, the Soviet Union’s economy became disorganized and was being liberalized during much of the 1980s. Not only that, but the Reagan administration escalated the arms race, which intensified after they had scrapped the ‘detente’ that was previously made in the mid-1970s. Even prior to Reagan’s hardline, bombastic rhetoric and escalation against the USSR, the Soviet Union was already beginning to show signs of strain from the arms race during the late-1970s. However, in spite of the economic strains, during the height of the war the organized joint operations between the Soviet army and the Afghan army saw a significant amount of success in pushing back against the Mujahideen with many of the jihadist leaders either being killed or fleeing to Pakistan. Therefore, it is erroneous to say that intervening in Afghanistan on behalf of the Afghan people “did the Soviet Union in.”

In a misguided and ultimately failed attempt to spur economic growth rates, Gorbachev moved to end the Cold War by withdrawing military support from allies and pledging cooperation with the United States who promised “peace”. When he embraced Neoliberalism and allowed for the USSR to be opened to the U.S.-dominated world capitalist economy, the Soviet economy imploded and the effects were felt by its allies. It was a capitulation to U.S. imperialism, in other words; and it led to disastrous results not only in Afghanistan, but in several other countries as well. These include: the destruction of Yugoslavia, both wars on Iraq, and the 2011 NATO invasion of Libya. Also, Warsaw Pact members in Eastern Europe were no longer able to effectively fight back against U.S.-backed colour revolutions; some of them would eventually be absorbed as NATO members, such as Czechoslovakia which was dissolved and divided into two states: the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Without Soviet Russia to keep it in check, the United States was able to launch an unrestrained series of aggressions for nearly two decades. Because of his decision to withdraw from the arms race altogether, in a vain attempt to transform the Soviet Union into a social democracy akin to those of the Nordic countries, Gorbachev had deprived the Russian army of combat effectiveness by making significant cuts to its defense budget, which is partly why they were forced to evacuate. Not only that, but these diplomatic and military concessions with the United States gave them no benefit in return, hence the economic crisis in Russia during the Yeltsin years. Suffice to say, the Gorbachev-Yeltsin years are not remembered fondly in Russia and many regard Gorbachev as a traitor and Western agent who helped to bring the Soviet Union to its collapse. In more recent years, efforts are being made to assess the actions taken by Gorbachev with regards to Afghanistan; this includes going against and revising the resolution put forth by him which suggested that the USSR intervention was “shameful”.

In short, Afghanistan did not cause the Soviet Union’s demise even if it required large military spending. More accurately: it was Gorbachev’s impulsive decision to quickly discard the planned economy in favour of a market economy in order to appease the United States, who made the false promise that NATO would not expand eastward. If there was a real “trap”, it was this and Gorbachev played right into the hands of U.S. imperialism; and so, the Soviet Union received its devastating blow from the United States in the end — not from a small, minor nation such as Afghanistan which continues to suffer the most from the effects of these past events. For many years, but especially since the end of WWII, the United States made ceaseless efforts to undermine the USSR, adding stress upon stress onto its economy, in addition to the psychological warfare waged through the anti-Soviet propaganda and military threats against it and its allies. Despite any advances made in the past, the Soviet Union’s economy was still not as large as that of the United States. And so, in order to keep pace with NATO, the Soviet Union did not have much of a choice but to spend a large percentage of its GDP on its military and on helping to defend its allies, which included national liberation movements in the Third World, because of the very real and significant threat that U.S. imperialism posed. If it had not spent any money militarily, its demise would most likely have happened much sooner. But eventually, these mounting efforts by U.S. imperialism created a circumstance where its leadership under Gorbachev made a lapse in judgment, reacting impulsively and carelessly rather than acting with resilience in spite of the onslaught.

It should also be taken into account that WWII had a profound impact on Soviet leadership — from Joseph Stalin to Gorbachev — because even though the Red Army was victorious in defeating the Nazis, the widespread destruction had still placed the Soviet economy under an incredible amount of stress and it needed time to recover. Meanwhile, the convenient geographical location of the United States kept it from suffering the same casualties and infrastructural damage seen across Europe and Asia as a result of the Second World War, which enabled its economy to recover much faster and gave it enough time to eventually develop the U.S. Dollar as the international currency and assert dominance over the world economy. Plus, the U.S. had accumulated two-thirds of the world’s gold reserves by 1944 to help back the Dollar; and even if it lost a large amount of the gold, it would still be able to maintain Dollar supremacy by developing the fiat system to back the currency. Because of the destruction seen during WWII, it is understandable that the Soviet Union wanted to avoid another world war, which is why it also made several attempts at achieving some kind of diplomacy with the United States (before Gorbachev outright capitulated). At the same time, it also understood that maintaining its military defenses was important because of the threat of a nuclear war from the United States, which would be much more catastrophic than the Nazis’ military assaults against the Soviet Union since Hitler did not have a nuclear arsenal. This was part of a feat that U.S. imperialism was able to accomplish that ultimately overshadowed British, French, German, and Japanese imperialism, which Brzezinski reveals in his book, The Grand Chessboard: American Primacy and its Geostrategic Imperatives: an unparalleled military establishment that, by far, had the most effective global reach which allowed the U.S. to “project forces over long distances”, helping it to assert its global domination and impose its “political will”. And what makes the American Empire distinct from the Japanese Empire, British Empire, and other European empires is that one of the bases for its ideology is the socially constructed international hierarchy of nations, and not races as was the case with the other aforementioned empires. This constructed international hierarchy of nations is more effective because it means not only greater expansionism, but also the greater ability to exercise global primacy and supremacy. More specific to Central Asia and the Middle East, the Wahhabist and Salafist groups propped up by the CIA were always intended to nurture sectarianism and discord in order to counter a mass, broad-based united front of nations against imperialism — an example of divide-and-conquer, which is an age-old tradition of empire, except this time with Neoliberal characteristics.

Therefore, the Mujahideen against Afghanistan should not be thought of simply as “the Afghan trap”, but rather as the U.S. subjugation and plundering of West and Central Asia and an important milestone (albeit a cynical one) in shaping its foreign policy with regards to the region for many years to come. If one thing has remained a constant in U.S. foreign policy towards West and Central Asia, it is its strategic partnership with the oil autocracy of Saudi Arabia, which acts as the United States’ steward in safeguarding the profits of American petroleum corporations and actively assists Western powers in crushing secular Arab and Central Asian nationalist resistance against imperialism. The Saudi monarchy would again be called on by the U.S. government in 2011 in Syria to assist in the repeated formula of funding and arming so-called “moderate rebels” in the efforts to destabilize the country. Once again, the ultimate goal in this more recent imperial venture is to contain Russia.

Cold War 2.0? American Supremacy marches on

The present-day anti-Russia hysteria is reminiscent of the anti-Soviet propaganda of the Cold War era; while anti-communism is not the central theme today, one thing remains the same: the fact that the U.S. Empire is (once again) facing a formidable challenge to its position in the world. After the Yeltsin years were over, and under Vladimir Putin, Russia’s economy eventually recovered and moved towards a more dirigiste economy; and on top of that, it moved away from the NATO fold, which triggered the old antagonistic relationship with the United States. Russia has also decided to follow the global trend of taking the step towards reducing reliance on the U.S. dollar, which is no doubt a source of annoyance to the U.S. capitalist class. It seems that a third world war in the near future is becoming more likely as the U.S. inches closer to a direct military confrontation against Russia and, more recently, China. History does appear to be repeating itself. When the government of Bashar al Assad called on Moscow for assistance in fighting against the NATO-backed terrorists, it certainly was reminiscent of when the PDPA had done the same many years before. Thus far, the Syrian Arab Republic has continued to withstand the destabilization efforts carried out by the Al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups and Kurdish militias at the behest of the United States, and has not collapsed as Libya, Yugoslavia, and Afghanistan did.

But what often gets overlooked is the repeated Brzezinskist formula of funding highly reactionary forces and promoting them as “revolutionaries” to Western audiences in order to fight governments that defy the global dictatorship of the United States and refuse to allow the West to exploit their natural resources and labour power. As Karl Marx once said, “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.” Such a phenomenon is no accident or a mere mistake. The geopolitical instability that followed after the overthrow of the PDPA ensures that no sound, united, and formidable opposition against U.S. imperialism will emerge for an indefinite number of years; and it seems that Libya, where the Brzezinskist-style of regime change also saw success and which is now a hotbed for the slave trade, is on the same path as Afghanistan. This is all a part of what Lenin calls moribund capitalism when he discussed the economic essence of imperialism; and by that, he meant that imperialism carries the contradictions of capitalism to the extreme limit. American global monopoly had grown out of U.S. foreign policy, and it should go without saying that the American Empire cannot tolerate losing its Dollar Supremacy, especially when the global rate of profit is falling. And if too many nations reject U.S. efforts to infiltrate their markets and force foreign finance capital exports onto their economies in order to gain a monopoly over the resources, as well as to exploit the labour of their working people, it would surely spell a sharp decline in American Dollar hegemony. The fact that the United States was willing to go as far as to back mercenaries to attack the former Democratic Republic of Afghanistan and fight the Soviet Union, as well as to spend billions of dollars on a highly elaborate but effective propaganda campaign, shows a sign of desperation of the American Empire in maintaining its global hegemony.

Since the end of World War II the United States has been, and is by and large still, the overwhelming world-dominating power. It is true that the American Empire is in decline, in light of increasing trends towards “de-Dollarization,” as well as the rise of China and Russia which pose as challenges to U.S. interests. Naturally, Washington will desperately try to cling on to its number one position in the world by accelerating the growth of its global monopolies — whether it is through placing wholly unnecessary tariffs against competitors such as China, or threatening to completely cut Venezuelan and Iranian oil out of the global market — even if it means an increasing drive towards World War III. The current global economic order which Washington elites have been instrumental in shaping over the past several decades reflects the interests of the global capitalist class to such an extent that the working class is threatened with yet another world war despite the unimaginable carnage witnessed during the first two.

When we look back at these historical events to help make sense of the present, we see how powerful mass media can be and how it is used as a tool of U.S. foreign policy to manipulate and control public opinion. Foreign policy is about the economic relationships between countries. Key to understanding how U.S. imperialism functions is in its foreign policy and how it carries it out — which adds up to plundering from relatively small or poorer nations more than a share of wealth and resources that can be normally produced in common commercial exchanges, forcing them to be indebted; and if any of them resist, then they will almost certainly be subjected to military threats.

With the great wealth that allowed it to build a military that can “project forces over long distances,” the United States is in a unique position in history, to say the least. However, as we have seen above, the now four decade-long war on Afghanistan was not only fought on a military front considering the psy-ops and the propaganda involved. If anything, the Soviet Union lost on the propaganda front in the end.

From Afghanistan we learn not only of the origins of Al Qaeda, to which the boom in the opioid-addiction epidemic has ties, or why today we have the phenomenon of an anti-Russia Western “left” that parrots imperialist propaganda and seems very eager to see that piece of Cold War history repeat itself in Syria. We also learn that we cannot de-link the events of the 2001 direct U.S. military intervention in Afghanistan and what followed from those of 1979; Afghanistan’s colonial-feudal past, its break from that with the 1978 Saur Revolution, and the U.S.-led Mujahideen are all as much of a part of its history (and the Greater Middle East, by extension) as the events of 2001. It cannot be stressed enough that it is those historical conditions, particularly as they relate to U.S. foreign policy, that helped to shape the ongoing conflict today.

Obviously, we cannot undo the past. It is not in the interests of the working class anywhere, in the Global South or in the Global North, to see a third world war happen, as such a war would have catastrophic consequences for everyone — in fact, it could potentially destroy all of humanity. Building a new and revitalized anti-war movement in the imperialist nations is a given, but it also requires a more sophisticated understanding of U.S. foreign policy. Without historical context, Western mass media will continue to go unchallenged, weaning audiences on a steady diet of “moderate rebels” propaganda and effectively silencing the victims of imperialism. It is necessary to unite workers across the whole world according to their shared interests in order to effectively fight and defeat imperialism and to establish a just, egalitarian, and sustainable world under socialism. Teaching the working class everywhere the real history of such conflicts as the one in Afghanistan is an important part of developing the revolutionary consciousness necessary to build a strong global revolutionary movement against imperialism.

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Originally published by LLCO.org on March 30, 2019. For the full-length article and bibliography, click here.

Janelle Velina is a Toronto-based political analyst, writer, and an editor and frequent contributor for New-Power.org and LLCO.org. She also has a blog at geopoliticaloutlook.blogspot.com.

All images in this article are from the author; featured image: Brzezinski visits Osama bin Laden and other Mujahideen fighters during training.

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