From: Max Obuszewski [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Tuesday, November 24, 2009 10:41 AM
Subject: Reagan Didn't End the Cold War -- Leftist Intellectuals Did
Reagan Didn't End the Cold War -- Leftist Intellectuals Did
By Stephen Zunes, AlterNet
Posted on November 20, 2009, Printed on November 23, 2009
The 20th anniversary of the 1989 Velvet Revolution that overthrew the Communist regime in
These movements were largely led by democratic socialists who mobilized workers, church people, intellectuals, and others to face down the tanks with their bare hands. Yet here in the
President Reagan's verbal support for democracy had little credibility in many of these countries. For example, while he denounced
While Reagan was certainly capable of inspirational leadership and personal charm, to claim that he is responsible for the downfall of Communism and the end of the Cold War is a disservice to the millions of Eastern Europeans and others who struggled against great odds for their freedom. For it was not American militarism, but massive nonviolent action -- including strikes, boycotts, mass demonstrations, and other forms of noncooperation -- which finally brought down these Communist regimes. Indeed, the Charter 77 movement in
It is very much in the interest of those in the foreign policy establishment to downplay the role of ordinary citizens making revolutionary change. The overthrow of the Soviet-styled Communist regimes of Eastern Europe were part of the pro-democracy movements that were also then sweeping Latin America and parts of Africa and Asia during this same period. Nonviolent "people power" movements similar to those in Eastern Europe were then bringing down a series of U.S.-backed dictatorships in the
As with these other successful nonviolent revolutions, the Eastern European struggles were for freedom, not capitalism. While the post-Communist Polish government forced adoption of neo-liberal shock therapy, Solidarity's original manifesto called for worker control of industry, a far more authentic version of socialism than the bureaucratic authoritarianism of the supposed "worker's state" that resulted. The leading dissidents in
For this reason, there was little support in
Rather than being inspired by Reagan's call to "tear down that wall" or a desire to emulate Western-style consumerism, the weakness of the Soviet-style system itself accelerated its demise. A centralized command economy can have its advantages at a certain phase of industrialization, when large "smokestack industries" -- from machine tools to tanks -- dominate manufacturing. Such a system, for a time, made the Soviets a formidable military power, but was totally incapable of satisfying consumer demand. Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev's famous line in the late 1950s that "we will bury you" was not a threat of war, but a reflection that -- over the past few decades up to that time -- the Soviet economy was growing faster than its Western capitalist counterparts and was projected to surpass that of the West within a couple of decades.
However, as the new wave of industrialization based upon information technologies took off, the economy of the Eastern Bloc stagnated. Totalitarian systems cannot survive without being able to control access to information, with serious cracks in the system becoming apparent as early as the 1970s. The only nominally communist governments that still exist are those like
Even these inherent weaknesses of their system would not have been enough to have caused them to collapse, however. They needed to be pushed. It took the general strikes, the popular contestation of public space, and other forms of massive non-cooperation to make these countries fundamentally ungovernable and force the regimes to their knees.
Nor were Reagan's military buildup and bellicose threats against the Soviets a factor. Indeed, such threats may have allowed these regimes to hold on to power even longer as people rallied to support the government in the face of the perceived external threat from the U.S. High Soviet military spending, in part as a reaction to the American military buildup which began in the latter half of the Carter Administration, certainly hurt their economy, as it did (and is still doing) ours. This was, however, a minor factor at most.
Indeed, none of the extensive archival evidence that has emerged in the past 20 years gives any indication that the
Instead of using the 20th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall as a rationalization for global capitalism, the supposed triumph of the neo-liberal Washington consensus, and a celebration of Cold War militarism, the real lesson from that autumn is that civil society utilizing mass strategic nonviolent action has the power to bring down an oppressive hegemonic order.
Perhaps this is something that needs to be emulated here as well.
© 2009 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs