Ask Auntie Pinko
January 13, 2005
By Auntie Pinko
I am a libertarian-leaning conservative. My question for you
is actually rather simple. What do you think about the Soviet Union?
San Diego, CA
Auntie has been asked many broad and open-ended questions, but
yours has to rank as one of the broadest. In the hindsight of history
it is easier to see how the Soviet Union carried the seeds of its
own destruction from its earliest phases. But as someone who lived
contemporaneously with almost half of the USSR's existence, I am
vividly aware of how different things looked while the Soviet state
endured. From the perspective of the twenty-first century the arc
of establishment, rise, decline, and fall appears preordained, as
though all of the events of the Soviet state's corporate life were
inevitable. But accepting this view obscures the multifaceted reality
of the entire Soviet experiment.
Nor is it possible to form a nuanced judgment of the Soviet state
without considering the alternatives that were available at the
beginning of the 20th century, and what might have occurred had
other options been selected at turning points in Soviet history.
Without understanding the external and internal contexts of the
Russian empire of the nineteenth century, it is impossible to evaluate
whether the Soviet Union at any point represented a better or worse
alternative than other feasible historical progressions.
Now, with those caveats, let me state categorically that Auntie
disapproves of any political/socioeconomic matrix that denies
its citizens the opportunity for political self-determination, restricts
the basic freedoms that enable citizens to self-actualize, and operates
to the benefit of a tiny minority of citizens. The fact that this
describes the majority of human governments both past and present
does not lessen my disapproval, but it does temper my judgment with
pragmatism. Humanity has yet to invent any form of government that
functions perfectly or even very well at any level above that of
a moderate-sized village.
The Soviet Union is a particularly interesting case study of human
government partly because its existence began in an era when modern
methods of historical study were already well-established, and it
progressed through its entire existence within a single lifetime.
It was, in effect, a cyberstate-operating in a speeded-up time continuum.
Like a child born with Cockayne's Syndrome, whose body ages fifteen
years for each calendar year lived, the Soviet Union was born, experienced
childhood and adolescence, maturity, senescence, and death, at a
vastly accelerated rate. And while this very phenomenon exposes
the inherent flaws in the Soviet system as it evolved, it also distorts
In fact, were it not for this highly-telescoped timeline, there
would be very little about the Soviet Union that differs from other
imperialist social structures. Most empires begin as idealistic
constructs emerging from the ashes of an earlier social system.
They achieve their apogee of power, stability, and wealth based
on an ever-increasing reliance on the conquest and/or control of
other states and their resources. Reliance becomes dependence, and
dependence demands an ever-increasing oppression of domestic and
colonial dissent in order to maintain control. The diversion of
resources from maintaining the well-being of the populace to controlling
the populace gives rise to greater dissent, and eventually fatally
destabilizes the imperialist state, rendering it vulnerable to dissolution
through internal collapse or external conquest (or both.)
In most cases this process takes at least a century or two - in
some cases as much as four or five centuries. There are a great
many internal and external variables that affect the speed of the
process, but so far in human history it has never been avoided or
reversed. The best outcomes have resulted from the imperialist power
voluntarily relinquishing control of its colonies and accepting
a diminished scope of geopolitical influence, often accompanied
by painful economic recessions and disruptions. It's possible for
a government to survive this process - Britain has nearly completed
it, at great cost - but not without internal transformations that
substantially change its nature and function.
From this perspective, the decision of the early Soviets to maintain
the imperialist nature of the state was, perhaps, the fatal
flaw in the constitution of the new state. It required them, from
the outset, to dedicate substantial resources to the control and
exploitation of the empire, and to engage almost immediately in
the repressive practices that kept the state from gaining internal
stability. Had the Socialist Revolution concentrated on local transformation
of the Russian core, leaving the rest of the empire to their individual
fates, they might have been able to forego dedicating so much time
and energy to control, and permitted greater political and social
self-determination among Russians.
However, had they done so, there would have been no vast conglomeration
of manpower and raw materials focused under a single directing authority
to resist the attempted Nazi conquest twenty years down the road.
Even the greater internal stability of the disparate elements of
the former Russian empire would not have saved them from being conquered
piecemeal by the Nazi military machine.
The oppression and genocide resulting from that might easily have
eclipsed Mr. Stalin's post-war brutality and oppression. And the
gain to Nazi Germany of the vast resources of the former Russian
empire could easily have had the effect of temporarily bolstering
Nazi power sufficiently to achieve success in conquering Western
Europe. Auntie doesn't like to think about the potential results
of that, even though such a bloated Nazi empire could never have
endured for long.
It's a vast subject, Clint, and unless you can be more specific
about precisely what aspect of the Soviet Union you'd like my opinion
on, you'll have to be content with this general historical analysis.
I hope it gives you some idea of my thoughts about the USSR, and
responds to at least some of the curiosity that prompted your question.
Thanks for asking Auntie Pinko!
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