Gods 'R' Us
by Sergei Boukhonine
by Sergei Boukhonine
Why did the
erstwhile Soviet Union and Soviet socialism expire? This question
has been answered exhaustively by Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich von
Hayek, and many others. Von Mises predicted the eventual inevitable
demise of communism in the 1920s. There is no need to rehash
question remains: Why did the USSR break up when it did, in 1991?
Why not during the 1960s or, perhaps, in 2001? After all, while
the fall of communism is inevitable, it could still endure for a
Here is a joke
from the beginning of the 1990s: The year is 2020 or thereabouts.
In heaven, President Reagan asks a newly arrived politician about
his old political acquaintances. How’s Margaret Thatcher doing?
Dead. Gorbachev? Also dead. Helmut Kohl? Dead as well. How about
Fidel Castro? Well, he is still in power but the CIA say they’ll
definitely get him next year!
causes of the fall of communism are well understood, there
is less consensus on the immediate causes of the Soviet collapse.
Here is an incomplete summary of hypotheses:
in Afghanistan. Undoubtedly, it played a certain role,
but could hardly be all that significant. Although over 15,000
Soviet troops died, little true news from Afghanistan reached
the Soviet populace. There were no terrorist attacks in Soviet
cities. The overall effect of the war was limited. In comparison,
the wars in Chechnya have been much bloodier,
better publicized, and marked by bloody terrorist attacks. Yet
the new, weaker Russia has managed to live through them intact
(at least so far).
military buildup under President Reagan and the Strategic
Defense Initiative. True, initially it gave the Soviet
government quite a scare, but the SDI proved to be an idea far
before its time. After a while, Soviet analysts figured out
that much of the American high tech weaponry could be inexpensively
thwarted by "asymmetric
responses." While many Americans have claimed that
Perestroika was caused by the American military buildup, many
in both Russia and America vehemently
disagree. I am not an expert on this issue; it might have
played a more major role than I think, but most likely was not
democratic Solidarity movement in Poland, the dissidents, Pope
John Paul II, etc. These are all valid reasons, albeit minor.
The totalitarian Soviet state was quite effective at insulating
its citizens from democratic propaganda.
So, if the
reasons above are all valid, but not decisive, what did bury
Here are my
favorites. They each reflect bad decisions made by the Soviet government
and the communist party and collectively known as Perestroika
- The semi-prohibition
of alcohol in summer of 1985. Designed to fight widespread
alcoholism, it became an unmitigated disaster in many different
ways. Here is how Wikipedia characterizes it:
did not have any significant effect on the alcoholism
in the country, but economically it was a serious blow to
the state budget (a loss of approximately 100 billion rubles
according to Alexander
Yakovlev) after alcohol production migrated to black
market economy. Alcohol reform was one of the initial
triggers that caused a chain of events that ended with the
collapse of the Soviet
Union and deep economical crisis in the newly formed CIS
six years later
is fine description, but what did it mean in reality?
was an immediate surge in inflation. Since all prices were fixed,
Russian inflation really meant widespread shortages and two to
three-hour lines for staples and other goods. Infuriating stuff.
was an immediate and tremendous shortage of sugar; enterprising
and thirsty people used sugar to make homemade alcohol, a kind
of Russian moonshine. Sugar was very important for Russian women
– they used it to make prodigious amounts of preserves and jams
to guarantee supplies for the long winter. Women were unhappy.
Incidentally, sugar confection and other sweets disappeared soon
thereafter, also good for making moonshine.
became very difficult, expensive, and time-consuming to buy vodka.
Russian men were very, very angry and, suddenly, sober! In desperation,
some resorted to drinking any liquids containing alcohol like
perfumes and eau-de-colognes.
The semi-prohibition of alcohol in Russia caused inflation, shortages,
black market activities, angry women, and angry, sober men. The
communist party was in big trouble!
or openness. Gorbachev believed that lack of transparency
was hurting the Soviet economy and society. So he allowed limited
discussion of previously taboo topics, such as Stalin’s atrocities.
While transparency truly helps if you have a market economy,
transparency and openness are incompatible with communism, which
is based on lies. Something had to give.
of some private enterprise in the form of Individual Labor Activity
(1987) and Cooperatives (1988). This was done primarily
to fight inflation and shortages by providing more consumer
goods to the people. It worked to a limited extent. However,
unintended consequences were immense. I will not bore you with
details; suffice it to say that the combination of the predominant
state economy and some market economy created unbelievable opportunities
for the enterprising and well-connected to strike it rich overnight.
Shrewd people exploited these opportunities and became instant
millionaires (think Mikhail Khodarkovsky).
also caused more inflation and increased the disparity between
rich and poor. These disparities were very traumatic to the population
accustomed to economic equality.
free enterprise was like a cancer eating away at the planned economy.
of semi-free travel first to socialist countries and then to the
West (19871988). This had both psychological and economic
consequences. Psychologically, the Soviet people got a chance
to compare their life with life abroad and found their life wanting.
They were exposed to new ideas. Economically, free travel spawned
active private international trade, which exploited price disparities,
creating more private wealth. Obviously, people who do well economically
have no reason to love socialism.
arises: why did they (the Politbureau) do all those things? Did
they do it on purpose or were they just amazingly ignorant? Take
the anti-alcohol campaign. Marx and Lenin themselves would have
cautioned against it. After all, these theorists believed in the
tabula rasa (blank slate) theory: Human beings are completely
shaped by their environment. Marx believed all human vices were
"birthmarks" of capitalism. Consequently, Marx proposed
that in order to create a "new man," children should be
taken away from parents and raised by government ideologues. Marx
and Lenin did not believe in teaching new tricks to old dogs; hence
the mass extermination of non-proletarians – bourgeoisie, educated
people, prosperous peasants (kulaks), etc. Duke Vladimir of Kiev
said that drinking was the joy of Russia; it was a thousand years
ago. In either arrogance or naïveté, Gorbachev and his
Politbureau buddies decided they could snuff out a thousands-year
old habit in a few years!
Why did they
do it? After WWII, Soviet communism was increasingly becoming a
religion. General secretaries probably felt they were gods, or at
least godlike. Gods R Us. Consider the following (I am not trying
to be sacrilegious here and am aghast at these terrible practices):
a Soviet communist trinity – Marx, Engels, and Lenin.
the god father. He authored the classic theory of capitalism
(Das Kapital) and the Communist Manifesto. If you don’t believe
me, consider Lenin’s own words "… the teaching of Marx
is omnipotent, because it is true" (учение
For the believers, God is omnipotent; for communists – Karl
god the son. He extended Marxism and "explained
away" its botched predictions. He turned Marxism into
Marxism-Leninism (do you see a parallel with the Bible?). "Lenin
is always alive, Lenin is always with you,… Lenin is in you
and me" went a Soviet
song. In other words, Lenin died and yet lives on. Young
children were made to recite the following pledge: "Lenin
lived, Lenin lives, Lenin will live!"
(and some still remain) Marxist-Leninist temples all over the
former USSR. The main temple is the Mausoleum on the Red Square
– the heart of Russia. Communist believers and curiosity seekers
still flock there to see Lenin’s mummy. Then there were "museums
of Marxism-Leninism" in every city in Russia etc. Children,
in particular, were continuously inculcated with communist propaganda.
life Lenin was not a choir boy (he had a mistress and believed
by many to have died of syphilis), he was turned into a virtual
saint, a paragon of perfection. From the age of four or five,
all children had to learn about Grandpa Lenin; how kind he was,
and how he liked little kids, cats, and dogs.
General of the communist party was a communist Peter – the vicar
of Lenin on earth. Although not a god himself, he possessed
unlimited power. He could make rivers turn and run back or change
the souls of men at his whim.
tough to argue that Engels is a good analogue of the Holy Ghost,
but other than that Soviet communism is indeed a religion, not
science. For more discussion look here
between Lenin and people such as Brezhnev and Gorbachev was their
educational background. Lenin was a well-educated man who could
read several European languages. He was well-read in philosophy,
economics, and political theory. Later Soviet communist rulers were
a product of a system where deception and self-deception were the
rule. We cannot know for sure, but it is not unlikely that as godlike
figures General Secretaries truly believed that they were above
the laws of nature and God.
So what finally
killed the USSR? It was the fall of the Soviet communist religion!
Until 1988, the communist trinity was off-limits. Vicars (general
secretaries) could be criticized, but not the communist troika.
Afterwards, Marx and even Lenin himself became fair game. Due to
the results of the disastrous government policies listed above,
people were angry and frustrated. Increasingly, they blamed the
communist party in general, not just a concrete minister or apparatchik.
The communists could not deliver economically. The communist trinity
was proven to be made up of false gods. Socialism had no reason
to exist any longer. Without socialism, only the threat of force
was holding Ukrainians, Estonians, Georgians, Lithuanians, and others
together. But with socialism gone, there was no real will to use
it. Again, here
Coup – an attempted coup
d'état against Mikhail Gorbachev by conservative members
of the Communist Party, referred to as "Hardliners" by the Western
media. After the coup collapsed, Yeltsin came out as a hero while
Gorbachev's power was effectively ended. The balance of power
tipped significantly towards the republics. Latvia, Estonia and
Lithuania immediately asserted their independence, while the other
12 republics continued discussing new, increasingly looser, models
of the Union. On December
Presidents of Russia, Ukraine
Accords which declared the Union dissolved and established
of Independent States – CIS, in its place.
25, 1991 Gorbachev resigned and declared his office extinct. The
great communist empire was no more – "not
with a bang but a whimper."
Boukhonine [send him mail]
is a native of Ukraine. After getting an MBA from the Rochester
Institute of Technology, he worked as a CFO in Moscow for seven
years. Currently, he is a PhD candidate at the University of Houston
in management information systems.
© 2006 LewRockwell.com