State-of-the-Art Soviet-Premier Blogging

by Will on August 29, 2010

A conversation with Dinkmeyer today made me remember an old joke from 70s Russia. I’m recounting it here, because it qualifies as historical analysis:

So Lenin, Stalin, Kruschev, and Brezhnev are on the train to visit a farming collective. This is a reality where figures from different eras can be on the same train together. Mid-trip, the train abruptly stops. It just sits there on the tracks for awhile. The conductor announces over the loudspeaker that there’s been a mechanical failure and he doesn’t know how long it will take to fix.

Lenin says: “we must stir up the revolutionary zeal of the workers, to fight against the bourgeois interests by fixing this train!”

Stalin says: “let’s just kill the conductor and all the mechanics who have been working on this train, and replace them with loyal allies who will live in terror of us.”

Kruschev says: “let’s try to reform the way the state-owned train company works, and make it more efficient so the trains don’t break down every single trip. Nixon told me that in the US, they don’t break down every single trip.”

Brezhnev says: “why don’t we just close all the blinds so we don’t notice we’re not moving? We can put on a record and drink a few bottles of wine. We’ll never notice the difference!”

I think it’s a funny joke. The way in which the Soviet system managed to preserve its worst pathologies and inefficiencies for so many decade is very depressing, however. Brezhnev and the entire bureaucracy under him chose to just keep doing a bunch of things that didn’t work, hoping somehow it would all turn out OK. The oil spike of the 70s gave them the luxury of getting away with this for a time, and doing a bunch of ridiculous grandstanding. But then in the 80s oil prices dived, so the leadership had no choice but to reform — but Brezhnev had overextended their military, (specifically with a quixotic war to control Afghanistan) and somehow reformers could not cut the military commitment. The entrenched interests just wouldn’t allow the sort of changes that were necessary, until the whole thing finally blew up.

This is especially depressing when I observe that our own country has a similar tendency to make entrenched interests sacrosanct, untouchable, so that every reform effort ends in exhaustion. This includes, especially, military projects that seem pointless to me, like having a bunch of military bases and soldiers in Japan and South Korea, fostering resentment against us, and in Germany, providing stimulus to the German economy. But it’s shabby to compare people to Stalinists when they’re not Stalinists, so I’m not going there.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Carol Sontag August 31, 2010 at 3:58 am

I couldn’t agree with you more… never thought to compare the way our government works with former Soviet Dictatorship styles but after reading this, I think the analogy makes sense. Hey Will, is this an actual photograph of your books and did you borrow our copy of, “Hammer of the Gods” The Led Zeppelin Saga? I’ve been trying to find it!

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