Saturday, February 05, 2005

Dead Russians test - Tankie, or not Tankie?

Well. I was saved from Stalinism, or at least it's labour party equivilant. As a lad I learnt the simple formula - the rights of some should be curtailed to allow the rights of others to be taken up. Simple. I was half convinced by the Cubaphiles who argue that freedom of speech is meaningless unless you have something to eat.

On the one hand, this is elementary utilitarianism. For the hardcore utilitarians, it was better that an innocent man may hang, rather than see systems of justice generally be impaired. etc. Utilitarianism still infects the left.

Such thinking makes for hard political choices.

Take Russia for example. A lot of tankies try and make out that the privatisation in Russia failed, that collectivised forms prevailed. Others, try the tack of making out what an utter disaster the collapse of the USSR was. This article (PDF) discusses the catastrophic decline in life expectancy in Russia between 1990 and 1995, falling from around 64 years for men down to 58. Given the thousands upon thousands of deaths (albeit statistically extrapolated ones) we could expect to have heard an outcry over the murderous regimes that oversaw these deaths.

As the article notes, many of the excess deaths were from chronic but previously treatable ailments that the health system could not longer deal with (note to self, more on this later).

In a very real sense, the collapse of Stalinist Soviet State Capitalism wrought catastrophic and appalling consequences on the Russian workers. the question to be posed, then, is it better to have a tyranous form of government, and at least not die and have material security, or should we, in the motto of New Hampshire, "Live free, or die"?

Formulate another way. If the only way to abolish the tyranny and torture of poverty as we know it, was to live in a Stalinist dictaorship, should we accept it? Where do your priorities lie?

Mercifully, the same article indicates that the decline in life expectancy began in the early 1960's - about the same time Paresh Chattopadhyay in his The Marxian Concept of Capital and the Soviet Experience: Essay in the Critique of Political Economy (Praeger Series in Political Economy) indicates the extensive accumulation of capital in the USSR stalled. A twenty year decline.

(More of his works here)

The main cause was alcoholism, alcohol related accidents and suicides. That is, it seems that people did kill themselves because of living in a totalitarian regime; and that Stalinism is not a workable solution to poverty. The collapse of its own health system was a conseuqence not of privatisation, but of the failure of soviet economics.

Dilema averted, practical morality asserts that the world is on our side in this one, and the unpalatable options seems unworkable. But, which side should we be on, where should our priorities lie?


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