Hard Lessons from the Soviet Union
The collapse of the 71 year old Soviet empire in 1989 stemmed mainly from the collapse of the Soviet economy, due to an unwinnable war in Afghanistan and a blown out military budget. The parallels with current US economic and geopolitical problems are obvious. Other similarities include the fact that the citizens of the US have lost any ability to influence their own government, as well as being stripped of basic civil liberties they are supposedly guaranteed under the Constitution.
The power structure in the US is clearly different from that of the former USSR. It’s not Communist Party bureaucrats who have seized control of our government – but powerful corporations with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. However like the Communist apparatchiks, these corporate interests have also assumed near total control over public information, via their ownership of electronic and print media outlets.
All this has occurred at a juncture in history when the human species faces three of the most urgent crises to ever face human kind – climatic instability resulting in an escalation of extreme weather events (deadly droughts, wild fires, storms and floods), fossil fuel depletion and the impending collapse of an extremely dysfunctional economic system. At a point in time when government leadership is desperately needed to find solutions to these urgent problems, our elected officials seem to be paralyzed. Moreover instead of stimulating public discussion and debate on how to solve these problems, the mainstream media seems more concerned with persuading us to buy things we don’t want or need.
What Will the Collapse Look Like?
There is no way of predicting the exact timing of the economic collapse many credible economists feel is inevitable. It could occur suddenly (via the collapse of the US dollar of China or other foreign countries that finance our $2 trillion debt dump our Treasury Bills). However many experts believe the US economy will simply bleed to death – under the weight of the $2 trillion TARP bail out and the $2.4 trillion dollars the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan will cost is. In this scenario we would simply see more and more businesses go under and more and more people lose their jobs and become homeless – until government and businesses simply no longer have the financial resources to support the basic infrastructure (electricity, gas, phone service, Internet, clean water, well-stocked supermarkets, police and fire service) we have all come to rely on.
I feel there are important lessons to be learned from the 1989 collapse of the USSR. One of the main reasons the crisis hit the Soviet people so hard was that there were virtually no civic organizations to take over when the government infrastructure fell apart. There were no church or neighborhood networks to organize food banks or soup kitchens or to look after the sick and elderly. In addition to the Soviets’ absolute ban on churches, the KGB (Soviet secret police) viewed all independent unions and community organizations as a threat to state power and disbanded them by arresting (and occasionally murdering) their leadership. Following the 1989 infrastructure collapse, farmers continued to produce food and oil refineries continued to produce small amounts of gasoline. However there ceased to be an organized distribution system. Thousands of people starved or froze to death or died of treatable medical conditions – because there was simply no organized way of finding drivers to deliver food, fuel and medical supplies to the people who needed them. We see a similar problem on a smaller scale in Haiti since the recent earthquake.
It’s Up to Us – the Government Isn’t Going to Do It
Based on his low popularity ratings, I gather a lot of us assumed Obama was going to deliver on his campaign promises to reform the Wall Street companies that got us into this economic mess, restore our civil liberties, end the economy busting wars in the Middle East and enact programs to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels. Instead he has squandered all his political capital on a very unpopular health care bill that is basically a corporate welfare bailout for insurance and drug companies. The only conclusion I can draw is that it’s now up to the American people to lead the way for our government and the rest of the world.