Capitalist democracy Life in the former Soviet Union

Wages, pensions, public health, education are all devastated

George Bush preached “democracy” to China last month, just as his father and Ronald Reagan preached “democracy” to the Soviet Union in the 1980s. By democracy, Bush and Reagan mean capitalist democracy, where everyone is formally equal, while the class of exploiters enforces its narrow interests. Workers’ democracy involves informed participation. It is open and honest about class interests and it represents the interests of the overwhelming majority.

Not surprisingly, Bush was silent about the disastrous economic and social impact of capitalist restoration in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Less than 2 percent lived in poverty in the Soviet Union. But within five years of counter-revolution, one-half to two-thirds had fallen below the poverty line!

Inflation ran so high that wages, pensions and savings were effectively cut 90 percent in five years, and 30 percent more in the next five. Resources devoted to education, science and public health have dropped as much as 90 percent. These and similar facts can be found in economic journals and technical publications of imperialist think tanks, but are not intended for mass consumption.

Investment for production quickly fell more than 80 percent in the Russian Federation. In the Ukraine, the fall was over 84 percent. “Factories’ machinery on average is 16 years old in the Russian Federation,” the Economist reported in 2001, “roughly three times the figure in the West.” Productive investment today is mainly devoted to oil and gas. The revenues are used for the enrichment of a tiny few and to service debts to Wall Street, not to meet the needs of the masses.

While some claim that conditions have stabilized or turned around, the World Bank itself has refuted this: growth is narrow and traceable to oil and gas, which now claim a quarter of the Russian Federation’s GDP. Unemployment, that deadly curse of capitalism, has exploded. Tens of millions have been left to fend for themselves. A financial oligarchy and endemic corruption have taken hold.

The code of silence extends to daily life. A rare insight is found in “Betrayal of Trust: The Collapse of Global Public Health,” a book by Laurie Garrett. Despite her own anticommunism, Garrett’s picture of life before and after counter-revolution is devastating — to capitalism.

Garrett reports that by 1995, average caloric consumption of mothers and children had fallen 30 percent in Georgia, 21 percent in the Russian Federation, and 23 percent in the Ukraine. “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization,” she writes, “considered the shocking deficiencies in micronutrients, such as iodine, potassium, calcium and iron to be so severe in much of the former USSR that the agencies were blaming it for declining IQs, anemia, stunted growth and other developmental deficiencies seen on a mass scale in the region. … When these regions were all part of the USSR and Soviet bloc, such things as iodine and iron supplements were universally available. ... After 1991, however, impoverished Georgia struggled to find cash reserves to purchase iodized salt.”

“Russian children bore the brunt of it all,” Garrett continues, “turning into a massive, orphaned subpopulation that lived by its wits on the streets of the snowy nation. The Russian Association of Child Psychiatrists estimated in November 1998 that the number of abandoned and orphaned children had suddenly doubled, to two million children [from the previous year, and] up from essentially zero in 1990. And the annual suicide rate among these cast-off youngsters was an astonishing 10 percent.”

It was predictable that capitalist restoration would turn the former Soviet Union into another Wall Street garbage dump and cesspool of unemployment and misery. Why? Because world capitalism’s problems with “overproduction” (economic imbalances) were already so severe in the 1980s. These problems have since grown. Global unemployment, a social indicator of “overproduction,” has exploded since the fall of the Berlin Wall; the number of “unemployed and underemployed” worldwide has doubled, and now exceeds 1 billion.

Spending on education in the former Soviet Union collapsed after capitalist restoration. How can you have democracy without literacy? How can you have democracy without full and prompt information? These are questions that George Bush does not address, even as he lectures China on “democracy.” His silence, paralleled by that of the monopoly media, is profoundly anti-democratic.

Only socialism has the capacity to solve today’s problems. The Soviet masses, their unions and Communist parties deserve our solidarity in the struggle against capitalism, and for socialism.