Posts Tagged ‘yeltsin’

Reflections on the Overthrow of Communism

Michael Parenti (2009)

Michael Parenti maintains that the Soviet Union didn’t collapse of its own accord in 1991 – that it was overthrown by the US and their allies.  He details the US-backed coup undertaken by Boris Yeltsin’s in 1993 when the Russian parliament refused to approve his extreme market-based reforms. Parenti also discusses the extreme misery Wall Street elites and the State Department inflicted on the Russian people in the effort (prior to Putin’s rise to power) to transform their country into a third world sweatshop. He highlights the massive increase in gang inequality and crime, and the increase in gender inequality (as the right to maternity leave, day care, divorce and abortion were stripped from the Russian constitution), sexual harassment, domestic violence and murder of women by their husbands.

The US Left’s Virulent Anticommunism

Parenti freely acknowledges that Soviet citizens sacrificed civil liberties for economic democracy, ie a society in which all citizens are  lifted out of poverty and enjoy free health care and education, subsidized housing and public transport and an absolute guarantee against brutal exploitation. He contrasts this with life in the US, where working people enjoy neither economic democracy nor civil liberties. He’s also scathingly critical of the American left (he mentions Noam Chomsky by name), which is much more virulently anti-communist than their right wing counterparts.

He goes on to detail serious weaknesses of the Soviet system, which he believes contributed to its demise. Overall he feels the Soviet economic system suffered from an absence of independent analysis. While Karl Marx offers a thorough critique of capitalism, he has no counterpart to critique the socialist/communist model.

The Human Nature Debate

Where Parenti and I part company is is contention that “pure socialism” (ie total abolition of the state) is impossible. He makes the argument that if workers run everything, it’s impossible to accumulate enough surplus value to finance an army to 1) to break the stranglehold of the capitalist class and 2) to defend against counter-revolution. He also maintains a state is necessary to protect against the greedy, acquisitive nature of human beings.

These views are also contradicted by decades of sociological research that human beings (like all primates) are hard wired to be social animals and naturally inclined towards cooperation and interdependence (see Human Nature: Cultural or Genetic. There is also strong evidence that much of the greed and antisocial behavior that characterizes the capitalist system stems from traumatic child rearing styles.

Trapped: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom

Adam Curtis

BBC (2007)

Film Review

Part 3 We Will Force You to be Free

Part 3 is about the philosophy of revolution, as articulated by the Algerian psychiatrist Frantz Fanon (author of Wretched of the Earth and Black Faces, White Masks). Fanon, who studied in Paris, was strongly influenced by French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. Sartre, who viewed economic equality as essential to personal freedom, believed true freedom was only possible through the overthrow of bourgeois society via violent revolution. Fanon was convinced that the western elites got into people’s heads and turned them into zombies devoid of the ability to think critically or act altruistically for the collective welfare of the community. He also believed that the mere act of organized violence freed people from their competitive individualistic conditioning.

Fanon’s ideas had major influence over numerous third world revolutionaries, including Che Guevara in the 1952 Cuban revolution, Pol Pot in the 1975 Cambodian revolution and Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Pol Pot believed the only way to rid society of bourgeois self-interest was to kill the entire bourgeoisie – all 3 million of them.

Positive and Negative Liberty

The documentary goes on to discuss the work of British political philosopher Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997). Berlin believed only two types of freedom, which he called positive and negative liberty, were possible. He labeled Fanon’s type of freedom “positive liberty,” as it involved a new elite forcing the masses to adopt a new way of thinking through violence. In contrast, “negative liberty,” allowed individuals to do whatever they want so long as they don’t infringe on the rights of anyone else.

Curtis contends that both types of so-called liberty involve violence and coercion. As examples, he offers the “shock therapy” the US corporate elite carried out in Russia in 1992 and in Iraq in 2003. While on the surface, both instances of “shock therapy” looks like pure exploitation by US banks and corporations, both were examples of the neoconservative doctrine of spreading “democracy” via armed force.

Shock Therapy in Russia

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, US vulture capitalists invaded Russia and pressured the new regime to abandon its centrally controlled economy virtually overnight. All subsidies for food, energy and other basic necessities were discontinued and most of Russia’s state owned industries were privatized. Millions of Russians lost their jobs and were plunged into abject poverty, as Russian oligarchs and American venture capitalists stripped the newly privatized industries of their wealth. Face with the loss of government subsidies, ordinary Russians lined up on the street and traded everything they owned for food.

In 1993, with the economy on the verge of collapse, Boris Yeltsin dissolved Parliament and launched a military coup to install himself as absolute ruler. He had to borrow money from the oligarchs to run his government, for which he handed over the remaining state-owned industries.

By 1998, the oligarchs and their American investors had bled Russia dry and the currency collapsed. Yeltsin was forced to resign and the Russian people elected Putin as president. The latter moved quickly to strip the oligarchs of their wealth and jailed them or forced them into exile. The vast majority of the Russian people adored him. They didn’t care if they lost basic freedoms (e.g. of speech, the press and assembly) because it was a better alternative than starvation.

Shock Therapy in Iraq

The Americans applied similar shock therapy during their occupation of Iraq, privatizing all the state owned industries (selling them for a pittance to US investors) and writing a new constitution that allowed foreign companies to expatriate 100% of their profits tax free.

In Iraq, the brutal US occupation would enhance the rise of a radical Islamist movement violently opposed to both western colonization and exploitation and the selfish, hedonistic and morally bankrupt lifestyle that seemed to be the driving force behind US foreign policy.

The US and Britain, in turn, responded to the threat of Islamic terrorism by severely restricting the freedom of their own citizens.

Both Fanon and Berlin Were Wrong

The two conclusions Curtis draws is that 1) both the so-called positive and negative liberty Berlin describes lead to violence and coercion and 2) Berlin was wrong in claiming that all attempts to change the world for better lead to tyranny.

My own perspective is that both Fanon and Berlin are wrong. As educated members of the upper middle class, they both made the mistake of assuming that the working class thinks the same way they do, i.e. that the working class is afflicted to the same extent as the middle class by individualism and competitive self interest.

Both failed to appreciate or understand that working class people share a distinct culture with its own values, language and world view. In fact, the issue of working class culture received little attention in academic circles prior to the 1970s.* Basic to this culture are the loyalty and group allegiance based on shared hardship.

Both are deeply ingrained values stemming from early childhood experience, which makes them difficult to reverse with mass media messaging, no matter how pervasive it is.

This is certainly my experience in working with blue collar families for 33+ years. It’s also born out by working class patterns of charitable giving.**


* Some of the better known authors on working class culture include Lillian Breslow Rubin (Worlds of Pain), Richard Sennett (Hidden Injuries of Class), Jake Ryan and Charles Sackrey (Strangers in Paradise: Academics from the Working Class), and Alfred Lubrano (Limbo: Blue Collar Roots and White Collar Dreams).

**Studies of working class charitable giving:

 

Free link to Part 3: The Trap 3 We_Will_Force_You_To_Be_Free_BBC/

dirty truths

Dirty Truths

by Michael Parenti (City Lights Books, 1996)

Book Review

Nearly 17 years old, Michael Parenti’s 1996 Dirty Truths offers an analysis of the national security state that props up monopoly capitalism which is largely missing from scholarly “leftist” literature.

Parenti is one of the few theoretical Marxists to formally acknowledge the impeccable scholarship of Sylvia Meagher, Mark Lane, Carl Oglesby, Peter Dale Scott, and others in uncovering the role of the national security state in John Kennedy’s murder. Noam Chomsky, Alexander Cockburn, the Nation and other high profile mouthpieces for the American left are all highly critical of leftists who subscribe to so-called “conspiracy theory.” In addition to eye opening chapters on the JFK assassination and the apparent 1970 assassination of labor leader Walter Reuther, Dirty Truths also features an excellent chapter on the bloody US-supported coup Russian president Boris Yeltsin carried out in 1992.

 “Selective Fascism”

Most of Dirty Truths is dated and of mainly historical interest. In his introductory chapters, Parenti, a PhD historian whose anti-Vietnam activism ended his teaching career, offers a Marixian analysis of the structural origin of poverty, corporate media censorship, and American military empire that are now taken as a given by most liberal intellectuals. Yet already in 1996, Parenti writes at length about the fascist nature of the national security state and its role as an all-powerful shadow government. Like Chomsky and other media analysts, Parenti believes the modern state mainly uses propaganda and brainwashing to prevent the working class from agitating for social justice. However when ideological control fails, it freely indulges in a a “selective fascism” of unrestrained violence, particularly against minority communities.

According to Parenti, most Americans fail to recognize the fascist nature of the national security state because the corporate media sugarcoats the militaristic violence and brutality that has crept into community policing.

Yeltsin’s 1992 Coup

His chapter on Yeltsin’s 1992 coup casts a whole new light on the break-up of the Soviet Union. In 1992, the corporate media glorified Boris Yeltsin as a hero of democracy when he behaved exactly like the puppet dictators the US props up in the Middle East. After ordering Russian troops to shell the parliament building (while the Russian Parliament still in session) and killing upwards of 1,000 people, he officially disbanded both Parliament and the constitutional court, nullified the new Russian constitution, banned labor unions, jailed all the opposition leaders, abolished city and regional councils and outlawed fifteen political parties. He took these actions when a parliamentary majority voted down some of the “market reforms” Wall Street and the IMF were trying to impose on Russia.

Once Yeltsin had a free hand to end price controls and sell off the state-owned industries (to foreigners and Russian gangsters), the result was an economic disaster that transformed Russia into a 3rd world sweatshop for US investment. The rampant inflation turned the Russian people into instant paupers. This, along with the collapse of the health care system, led to mass starvation and epidemics of typhoid, TB that reduced Russian life expectancy by an average of twenty years.

The JFK Assassination and the Gangster State

Parenti’s discussion of the conspiracy to murder John Kennedy fits neatly into his analysis of the national security state as a large unaccountable state power with a primary purpose of protecting the ruling elite. Any individual or group who poses a serious threat to the corporate elite is automatically subject to neutralization in the form of illicit surveillance, sabotage, infiltration, false arrest, tax harassment, and violence and assassination. I suspect Parenti’s depth of knowledge relates in part to personal experiences as an anti-Vietnam War activist, which he describes at the end of the book. It’s also a matter of public record that the CIA, FBI and other intelligence agencies enlist the services of mobsters, drug traffickers, and assassins to target peasants, intellectuals, clergy, student and labor leaders and community activities who threaten US financial interests, both overseas and domestically.

Parenti devotes most of this chapter to Oswald’s role as a low level intelligence operative (and patsy) and the aggressive role corporate media has played in suppressing volumes of documentary and research evidence linking the assassination to the national security state.

He’s also highly critical of what he describes as a “conspiracy phobia” on the part of Chomsky, Cockburn, the Nation and other high-profile leftist and progressive publications. He includes excerpts of his lengthy correspondence with Chomsky, highlighting the illogic of the MIT linguist’s principle arguments against serious consideration of the assassination literature: 1) studying conspiracies (supposedly) “distracts” activists from focusing on the structural problems of capitalism, 2) the US government (supposedly) had no reason to assassinate the Kennedy brothers because they were both cold warriors and mainly acted in the interests of the ruling elite, and 3) focusing on assassinations (supposedly) leads activists to idealize the Kennedys and overlook their shortcomings.

Parenti also notes that Chomsky and Cockburn both condemn the meticulous and extensive work of Sylvia Meagher, Mark Lane, Carl Oglesby, Peter Dale Scott, and other scholars without ever reading any of it.

 Free from the Open Library

I borrowed Dirty Truths from the Open Library. Following registration, borrowers can download a PDF or Epub version of a large selection of books. All have a two week due date and vanish from your hard drive two weeks after you borrow them.