The Soviet collapse—grain and oil

Hans-Georg's picture
Sun, 2008-12-07 11:46 by Hans-Georg

I read a blog article that drew my attention to the following speech and article by Yegor Gaidar, one of the most interesting articles I have read in a long time:

Yegor Gaidar is director of the Institute for Economies in Transition in Moscow. Between 1991 and 1994, he was acting prime minister of Russia, minister of economy, and first deputy prime minister. Between 1993 and 2003, Gaidar was a founder and a co-chairman of the Russia's Choice and the Union of Rightist Forces Parties, and a deputy of the State Duma. His most recent book, "Gibel' Imperii: Uroki dlya sovremennoi Rossii" ["The Collapse of an Empire: Lessons for Modern Russia"], was published in 2006. The English translation of the book will be published by the Brookings Institution Press on July 30, 2007.

The Soviet Collapse—Grain and Oil

I must admit that I had very naively believed in the foggy notion that Mikhail Gorbachev had appeared out of the blue, because the Soviet politicians had somehow come to their senses and had been convinced that reform was better than stagnation, essentially because they were good and sensible people. What an error!

The article casts a new light on the remaining communist dictatorships, particularly China. I imagined a Chinese Gorbachev, who would one day mysteriously appear and bring the rulers to their senses.

After reading this article, I now know that it will likely happen, but not because some good Gorbachev-like person convinces the central committee of doing the right thing, but for a very different reason. It will happen when the communist rulers, spoiled by power and with a limited grasp of global economic processes, will one day steer their country into an economic dead-end street and ultimately lose the fragile support of their people.

The only alternative would be the good dictator who never makes any such mistake. The problem with this is that we have no record of any dictatorship that remained good forever.

The article has also changed my judgment of democracy in general. I used to see democracy as one viable and proven path among hypothetical alternatives. Now I understand that there is no long-term alternative to democracy at all. There are only variations of democracy. Any non-democracy will ultimately end up losing the support of its people. And if we want to improve our own society, we cannot do that by abandoning democracy, only by modifying and improving it.

This leaves the fact that an undemocratic regime can hold on to power for a considerable time. The question remains whether that could be a good thing under certain circumstances. Again, China comes to mind.

I have no answer to this question. I certainly don't know enough to judge any hypothetical alternatives to what we have today, and these thoughts remind me of the words of a history professor, who once told me his opinion that discussing hypothetical historic alternatives makes no sense whatsoever. You cannot turn back the wheel of history anyway.