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Archive for the tag “Soviet Union”

Who won the Cold War?

Who won the Cold War? In a book I read recently, Book review: A history of the English-speaking peoples | Khanya the author was in no doubt that Maggie Thatcher and Ronnie Reagan “won” the Cold War, but the author’s worldview was utterly anachonistic, and can only be described as neojingoism.

Clarissa takes a somewhat different view of it in Clarissa’s Blog: Who Caused the Collapse of the Soviet Union? Part I:

Nothing annoys me more than hearing people discuss completely in earnest whether the collapse of the Soviet Union was brought about by Ronald Reagan or by somebody else. Such discussions make just as much sense as trying to figure out whether world peace was achieved by this or some other politician. ‘Well, there is no world peace,’ you’d say. Right you are. And there was no collapse of the Soviet Union. Not in any meaningful sense, that is. As to the end of the Cold War, if you seriously think it’s over, you need to stop spending so much time listening to the American media and turn to some external sources of information every once in a while. The winner of the Cold War is yet to be decided but I somehow doubt that you can win any war by pretending it isn’t taking place.

I think her whole article is worth reading, though I disagree with the premiss that the Cold War is continuing.

To that extent I agree with the late Samuel Huntington, who said that the Cold War was primarily a clash of ideologies, while what we are seeing in the post-Cold War world is a clash of civilizations.

One of the relics of the Cold War is the term “Third World”, which still seems to persist, though its meaning seems to have changed, or rather dissipated. The “three worlds” view of geopolitics was composed of

  • First World: the capitalist world
  • Second World: the communist world
  • Third World: the non-aligned states

The Third World was founded by India, Indonesia and Yugoslavia, and Yugoslavia was the only Third-World state in Europe, and, in a sense, its disintegration, like that of the Soviet Union, marks the end of the Cold War.

If the Cold War was a war of ideologies, as Huntington says, then one could say that Ronald Reagan and Maggie Thatcher “won” the Cold War, because their brand of free marketism is the dominant religion in the world today. That is where Huntington got it wrong; he posits Western Christianity as the religion of Western Civilization. It isn’t. Free Marketism is.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and Bolshevik rule in Russia is a somewhat different matter. By Brezhnev’s time, if not before, faith in communism had grown cold. The leaders of the ruling Communist Party uttered all the old slogans, but the conviction had gone out of them. All that was left was a clinging to power, and, as Clarissa points out, the most powerful men in Russia today resemble nothing so much as the Vicar of Bray.

The Tablet – Review: Engineers of the Soul

“One evening in 1932, Joseph Stalin summoned dozens of the more biddable Russian writers – that is, without the likes of Pasternak, Bulgakov, Mandelstam or Akhmatova – to a jolly at Maxim Gorky’s place, and made them an offer they couldn’t refuse: to join the Soviet Union’s military-industrial drive. “Our tanks are worthless,” he tells the nervous assembly, “if the souls who must steer them are made of clay. Man is reshaped by life itself, and those of you here must assist in reshaping his soul. And that is why I raise my glass to you, writers, engineers of the soul.” This was no polite big-up, of the sort that might be bandied about at Islington drinks parties by soft London authors in an attempt to shore up their self-importance: it was an order, and signalled an attempt to turn literature into something it had never been before.”

So begins an interesting review of The Tablet – Review: Engineers of the Soul:

Frank Westerman’s marvellous and original book traces the catastrophe – spiritual, ecological, social – that that attempt bolstered. A country addicted to political fictions enlisted writers to give literary substance to them, with the result that, disastrously, not only the people but the state itself began to believe those fictions. One of the enduring geographical dreams of the Soviet Union was to divert its Arctic rivers southwards to turn the deserts of central Asia into a flowering paradise. Westerman tracks down an old professor engaged in this vainglory: “We were smothered beneath an avalanche of praise. The dams and pumping stations we designed were invariably spoken of as ‘more monumental than the pyramids of Egypt’. Try keeping a level head then!” The result: “Some of us let it go to our heads. There were those who dreamed of digging canals using controlled nuclear explosions … ”

Hat-tip to Jim Forest. It reminded me of Recent reading: The socialist sixth of the world Khanya. That wwas written by Hewlett Johnson, the “Red Dean” of Canterbury, who sang the praises of Stalin’s industrialisation of the Soviet Union, which, according to Johnson, brought peace and plenty, full employment and freedom, at a time when the rest of the world was suffering from the Great Depression. Westerman’s book sounds like an interesting counterpoint to that.

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