Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia
By Stephen Cohen
320 pages, $21.95
Stephen Cohen's superb new book, Failed Crusade, is indispensable--and
not just as a fluent guide to the last 10 terrible years in Russia,
where national production has dropped by half, transforming the
unstable country, as Cohen argues persuasively, into a greater nuclear
threat than the old Soviet Union. Failed Crusade also succeeds
admirably in an even larger aim--proving the failure of free-market
fundamentalist ideology, and documenting, with controlled but persuasive
anger, the complicity of leading American journalists, academics
and Clinton administration officials in a dishonest effort to cover
up their own arrogant mistakes.
Cohen's expertise on the early years of the Soviet Union, demonstrated
in his book
Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution, informs his understanding
of this latest wave of ideological zealotry and brutal social engineering.
In the '20s and '30s, central planning efforts of the Bolsheviks brutally
transformed Russia; Cohen finds their modern counterparts in the Americans
and other Westerners who (with some Russian junior partners) have
conducted a new fundamentalist experiment on the Russian people. They
took their blueprint not from Lenin, but from free-market textbooks.
Overnight, they directed the privatization of the big state enterprises,
cut social spending and eliminated the old Soviet safety net, in the
hopes of encouraging Western lending and investment. This "shock therapy"
was meant to jolt Russia into a functioning capitalist society.
Down for the count.
The market Bolsheviks have had a decade. In Cohen's words, their
efforts have led to "the worst peacetime industrial depression of
the 20th century," making Russia a "beggar state" with "unprecedented
dependence on imported goods" and "more new orphans than resulted
from Russia's almost 30 million casualties in World War II."
In sum, the Russian regime is something new in history: a once
highly industrialized country, once highly capable in military and
space technology, that has plummeted down into the Third World.
Today, Russia is ruled by a corrupt and unpatriotic oligarchy that
earns foreign exchange by exporting raw materials--mainly oil, gas
and minerals--that evades taxes and stashes its wealth abroad, and
that dominates a semi-democratic system with money power, particularly
by controlling the mass media. A Brazilian or a Nigerian would feel
right at home in the new Russia.