No Minister

A perfect example of the USSR

with 11 comments

Let’s have a big round of applause for government incompetence.

Had I been aware of it I would have included the following essay in my post a few days ago, Karl Marx’s Christmas Present, on the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet Union.

The essay is a review of a recently published book, Collapse: The Fall Of The Soviet Union by Vladislav M. Zubok. That book tries to explain why the USSR collapsed so fast and argues that although the nation was in a lot of trouble and its leaders had known that for at least a decade, the collapse was not foreordained and the final result depended on a lot of turning points and personalities.

However the essay (Russian Bear Market), while praising the book’s details and accepting the main argument that collapse was not inevitable, argues that even had the 1991 coup against Gorbachev succeeded the new leaders would have faced all the same problems that could no longer be solved by Stalinist bloodshed alone, even had that been possible in the late USSR.

There’s some juicy stuff here in the details but this opening paragraph cracked me up and reminded me very much of the final confrontation between the Chief of the KGB and Professor Legasov in the TV mini-series Chernobyl:

When the KGB chief Yuri Andropov became the Soviet leader in 1982, candidates for office besieged him. Whenever someone began, “Let me tell you about myself,” Andropov replied: “What makes you think you know more about yourself than I know about you?”

Brilliant. The whole shitty system in a nutshell. If we know everything about everybody (and everything) we can run this system.

Other interesting bits include this on Ukraine.

Yeltsin soon discovered that republics demanding the right to separate would not consider giving the same right to their own provinces. Reading Zubok’s account, I was struck by the fact that Crimea, which President Putin invaded in 2014, already posed an issue as the USSR was falling apart. With a population overwhelmingly Russian, it had been ceded to Ukraine by the Communist Party leader Nikita Khrushchev in 1954. The Donbass, the predominantly Russian area of Eastern Ukraine that is now the scene of armed conflict, also posed an issue as the country was breaking up. Would Ukraine have been better off had it not insisted on retaining these undigestible parts?

I’ve got a fair amount of time for Gorbachev so the following nugget is disappointing, even if it had been typical of such leaders for decades:

Even those familiar with the opulence in which the leaders of the world’s first socialist state lived will be shocked by Zubok’s description of the vacation villa Gorbachev had built in 1988. It cost one billion rubles at a time when the Soviet defense budget, which Zubok believes was fifteen per cent of gdp, was seventy-seven billion rubles. Today, the U.S. defense budget is about $750 billion, which would make the cost of an equivalent villa $9.75 billion. That doesn’t include the upkeep and endless staff, such as the scuba divers making sure no one could infiltrate by water. Given the country’s fiscal crisis, one can’t help but recall the extravagance of Louis XVI.

I recall that the coup seemed very incompetent, a result of a degrading system producing degraded and mediocre leaders, but I had no idea how incompetent they were:

It was a Keystone coup. Right after the organizing meeting of the plotters’ Emergency Committee, Zubok explains, “some members went home and succumbed to various illnesses. Boldin was already suffering from high blood pressure; he went to a hospital. Pavlov . . . tried to control his emotions and stress with a disastrous mixture of sedatives and alcohol. At daybreak, his bodyguard summoned medical help, as Pavlov was incapable of functioning.” Pavlov later took some more medicine to control his nerves and “had a second breakdown that incapacitated him for days.”

So incompetent were they that they did not bother to turn off Yeltsin’s phone or prevent him from organizing opposition. One of Yeltsin’s supporters was able to fly to Paris, denounce the coup, and prepare, if necessary, to set up a government in exile. Opposition news sources, who knew what was happening better than the coup leaders themselves, continued their broadcasts to the West. “The situation was unbelievable,” one KGB general recalled. KGB analysts were learning about a crisis “in the capital of our Motherland from American sources.” When Margaret Thatcher accepted advice to telephone Yeltsin, she recalled, “to my astonishment I was put through.”

Let’s have a big round of applause for government incompetence.

Written by Tom Hunter

January 4, 2022 at 11:36 am

11 Responses

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  1. LOL – the Author of the book you are referencing is a fully paid up member of the Washington Foreign policy establishment and is writing to pander to their sense of triumphalism over the collapse of the Post WW2 European Order

    This of course appeals to you and is music to your ears but it is also just preaching to the choir and gives no real insights into the positions we find ourselves living in today

    When civilizations go they do seem to collapse suddenly though with benefits of hindsight the signs will seem obvious to people who want to write books 30 years and more later and cherry pick anecdotes to support their positions

    It suited the American FP people and their European acolytes at the time of that collapse to treat regional borders as sacrosanct with the notable exception of the Former Republic of Yugoslavia which they wished to dismember to their own advantages

    Of far more interest in 2022 might be the imminent collapse of the USA, which will happen eventually and maybe sooner than you think – and while there is much to love and admire about the USA there are worrying signs, the deep despair that pervades much of of West Virginia, which should be rich is an example as are the homeless that dominate the many of the streets of major West Coast cities such as Portland, Seattle and most notably of all San Francisco

    And it is almost impossible not to notice the geriatric nature of the current Administration who came to office in an extremely dodgy and suspicious manner

    Or getting closer to home the transformation of the Dominion of New Zealand into the Republic of Aotearoa which is well underway – the prefix “The Dominion of” having been quietly shelved many years ago without anybody noticing though legally still operant.

    The key concept you need to grasp is there is no perfect society in an imperfect world filled with imperfect people some of whom are downright evil and never will be.

    Instead of worrying over the villas of long dead Soviet Leaders you might want to keep your eyes on opulent trips to Glasgow by Government Apparatchiks at a time when mere mortals such as ourselves are unable to visit our nearest dearest and they are unable to travel to see us.

    Or the influx of Glitterati from foreign climes to perform at celebrity weddings, even celebrity weddings occurring when others have had to postpone theirs and put their lives on indefinite hold ..,

    …because these things are sign posts that the best days of this nation are probably in the past…

    Andrei

    January 4, 2022 at 3:52 pm

    • I don’t know if you clicked the review but I would have been heartened to see some of your thoughts there with this closing statement:

      One is bound to reflect: a long history does not guarantee stability or even continued existence. A country that acts as if debts can grow without limit, is led by a bumbling chief executive whose weakness is obvious to foreign enemies, and contains culturally different regions increasingly contemptuous of each other—and whose intellectual leadership no longer believes in its founding principles—such a country may experience a sudden catastrophe

      Tom Hunter

      January 4, 2022 at 4:16 pm

    • Hello Andrei

      I find the following two websites provide good reading from a pro Russian perspective

      https://cluborlov.wordpress.com/. ( The moderator has previously written a book called the
      five stages of collapse )

      Also

      http://thesaker.is/

      Edward Main

      January 4, 2022 at 4:20 pm

    • … writing to pander to their sense of triumphalism over the collapse of the Post WW2 European Order. This of course appeals to you and is music to your ears

      You mean the collapse of the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe and then the USSR itself.

      Of course. Why would anybody not feel triumphant about that and for it to be music to our ears, including many Russians, especially religious ones?

      Tom Hunter

      January 4, 2022 at 5:23 pm

    • Anyone who doesn’t miss the Soviet Union doesn’t have a heart

      Anyone who wants it back doesn’t have a brain

      Vladimir Putin

      You are blinkered – to you the USA is all good and benevolent and came to Europe as Liberators in WW2 whereas the Soviet Union was the epitome of evil and came as conquerors

      Neither is actually true – and Stalin for all his sins will go down in history as a great man, come back in 100 years and you will see I am right on that score – its not that future historians will be communists, communism is just another failed utopian dream, rather it will be his accomplishments in industrializing the Soviet Union and defeating Hitler that will secure his legacy.

      If you are honest intellectually you will grasp that Churchill and Stalin were men cut from the same cloth – famously they indulged in a drinking session where they both tried to drink the other under the table and failed.

      If you look at any period between the end of WW1 and the fall of communism in Europe you can find despicable things down by the Government in the Soviet Union and that is equally true in the USA, if you are open minded about it.

      When it comes to the Christian religion Modern Russia has swapped places with USA when it comes to supporting it and having a place for it in Public Life.

      Eisenhower made “In God We Trust” the official motto of the USA back in 1956 while today in the USA the spectators cannot recite the Lord’s Prayer before a Friday night high school football game while imagery depicting the 10 Commandments has been removed from courthouses at the behest of the Supreme Court who also amazingly enough discovered that the Founding Fathers supported Abortion on Demand and Gay Marriage when they drafted the Constitution and Bill of Rights – which I am sure would astonish those men of vision who drafted it

      There is and never will be a perfect system, get over it.

      But as we are rapidly descending into a nightmarish dystopia I don’t really think concerning ourselves over past wrongs is particularly useful – we have our own fight for Freedom and personally autonomy on our hands

      Andrei

      January 4, 2022 at 7:52 pm

  2. On the button Tom… unfortunately, feels true. Worst govt ever.

    Kevn

    January 4, 2022 at 4:32 pm

  3. Hi Andrei,

    …Stalin for all his sins will go down in history as a great man, come back in 100 years and you will see I am right on that score – its not that future historians will be communists, communism is just another failed utopian dream, rather it will be his accomplishments in industrializing the Soviet Union and defeating Hitler that will secure his legacy.

    No. Just, no.

    Lucia Maria

    January 4, 2022 at 7:59 pm

    • Lucia – that is something that neither you nor I will have any say in, we will be long gone and the controversies of our time long forgotten and of no matter to the concerns of the day

      Ask a New Zealander, or more likely an Aoteroan of 100 years hence who Jacinda Ardern was and not one in ten will be able to tell you would be my guess

      Think I am wrong?

      Ask a random people if they have heard of Sydney Holland and see what they come up with

      Peter the Great spilled a lot of blood, he even had his own son tortured to death but he is remembered for what he achieved with the epithet “The Great” so there you go

      Its a funny old world and we are only here for a short time, then forgotten

      Though it would be interesting to get Eleanor Rigby’s take on her her tombstone becoming a Liverpudlian tourist attraction 🙂

      Andrei

      January 4, 2022 at 8:33 pm

    • Stalin did not defeat Hitler. Hitler lost the war due to his overconfidence, arrogance, and refusal to undertake strategic retreats – plus the eternal Russian war hero, General Winter.

      Harry

      January 6, 2022 at 3:13 pm

  4. @Andrei

    What were your feelings when this happened on Christmas Day in 1991? I had wondered at you not commenting on that post.

    Tom Hunter

    January 4, 2022 at 9:18 pm

    • That was people power Tom – the rank and file of the army refused to obey

      We should learn from that and dump our masks and refuse to show vaccine passports

      Those who govern can only do so with consent of the governed

      What I didn’t like was that in some of the Republics the Communist Rulers held onto their power by declaring independence gleefully recognized by the GODLESS West allowing their evil agenda to be advanced. These people weren’t making their moves for “freedom and democracy™” but out of naked self interest and in those lands the people have been impoverished

      And what I didn’t and don’t like is the way Western “Capitalists” began to loot the Russian family silver until they were stopped by Vladimir Putin, which of course is why he is painted as a villain

      Ukraine was the richest of the Soviet Republics and now its people are the poorest in Europe while its young women are sold to brothels in the West and the East or if luckier might end up as mail order brides

      What I also have often thought is that what happened to the USSR is about to happen to the West – the triumphalism over the fall of the USSR is hubris and the over weening feelings of pride, superiority and invincibility have led to the West going down the toilet which much of what made it great now in tatters

      I personally think we are in the midst of a civilizational collapse and we are about to experience a very unpleasant reality check

      Andrei

      January 4, 2022 at 10:22 pm


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