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Thursday, June 13, 1996

A Vote for The People

For hard-liners melancholic about not having the Cold War anymore, and a left resigned to the droning banality of a U.S. presidential campaign waddling through the summer's torpid dog days, the Russian elections promise to be a welcome balm.

An outright Zyuganov victory, should that occur, will come in the runoff, doubtless as a part of a coalition with first-round also-rans, most likely the nationalist parties headed by Zhirinovsky and Aleksandr Lebed. Such a winning "red-brown" consortium will provide America's chronic warriors with a pretext for renewing the time-honored agenda: the NATO of old, with no barriers to future expansion into Central Europe, and a START II strategic nuclear treaty which would remain unratified indefinitely.

Of course, a new phase of the Cold War temporarily ameliorates a number of fundamental U.S. economic issues. Congressional squabbling about the continuing high level of military spending would become moot, and the traditional bipartisan consensus on national security industrial policy would again prevail. The specter of a reawakened Russian bear menacing Europe provides the U.S. an Atlanticist military reentrenchment, a replay of the big-stick posture we milked with consummate assiduity for more than four decades to exact favorable economic and trade concessions from our European allies. For a U.S. adrift without an authentic justification for perpetuating its command economy, engaged in endless parrying with trade partners and fearful of a diminishing share of international commerce as geographical trade blocs emerge, a possible Yeltsin defeat represents a blessing in disguise.


There's an inherent virtue to a potential reenactment of this fusty horseplop, however. In point of fact, it would furnish a crystalizing focus on the hypocrisy and propaganda demonization which marked our post-WW II relations with the Soviets. And as such, it would be the first genuinely discordant note in this summer's BillyBob mutual serenade.

None of this necessarily presupposes a Zyuganov victory. In the long term, a Yeltsin reelection further galvanizes a permanent and extremely well organized left/nationalist opposition as Russia erodes into a total basket case of privatized corruption and misery. That opposition, vocal and growing, will henceforth define the real issues facing Russians, and will be an enduring reminder to U.S. leaders that the systemic differences between the two nations-- despite any name changes -- remain unresolved. That BillyBob market economics are proving to be antithetical to the Russian character puts the U.S. squarely in a dilemma. All the years of unquestioned Truman Doctrine premises which undergirded American policy toward the Soviet system are finally up for examination. A "free" Russian populace, on whose behalf we endangered the world with annihilation, is now at hand. And these newly-minted practitioners of the franchise have the potential to make us ask ourselves the hard questions for the first time.


It's at least comforting that the most compelling analysis of the current Russian yearning for lost grandeur is the besmirched revisionist Cold War interpretation (not that any of us ever doubted it for a moment.)

Truman's equating radical change as inseparable from communism gave the green light to containment and the American-initiated arms race. Anyone capable of understanding a map could see that our encirclement of the Soviets was not supposition but fact. And anyone with functional reasoning skills could divine that a battered Russia rebuilding its far-flung domain had absolutely no interest in overrunning Western Europe. Nor did it have the capability, as Stalin, at the height of his haughty madness, was wise enough to note.

The objective of bringing "socialism" to heel was accomplished by a military-Keynesian industrial policy, every bit as essential to the U.S.' domestic well-being as the Soviet variant was to its own economy. The Cold War was a fraud, but a necessary one, as the predicament of a downsized American work force bears out. The conflict fostered high levels of employment, and utilized the U.S.' protector role to arm-twist capitalist rivals into economic concessions. Our trade disputes in recent years with Europe and Japan are testimony to the end of our chilling ritual of prosperity with the Soviet Union.

American late-capitalist nostalgia for the halcyon years of yore pales beside present Russian pining for its lost prestige. The resultant chaos from wholesale American economic penetration and manipulation of a prostrate Motherland has summoned up the old Russian nightmares: Twenty-eight million dead in a war largely fought without allies, seventy years of isolation and quarantine, rubble and destruction of a magnitude the American mind cannot begin to conceive of.


No independent left critique of the Soviet Union could have dismissed the grey stultification of life there. Western progressives' sympathy for those forced to abide the stale extolling of scientific socialism was always forthcoming. The difference now is that Russian voters have discovered that the apparatchiks' warnings about the vices of capitalism were right on the mark. As the country carries that sudden illumination to the ballot boxes, the result could be a lesson to us all. What was that old saw about workers of the world uniting?

Copyright John Hutchison 1996
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