Everyone interested in discovering what the Cold War really was deserves to have a copy of The World Was Going Our Way on his or her bookshelves. Based on one of the U.S.’ most impressive espionage troves, the Soviet Union’s Mitrokhin Archive, the book recounts the way the KGB created a secret foreign policy in the Third World from 1950 to 1990. It was a paranoid shadow policy of destabilization, based on the delusional premise that the marauding Americans would shape the world in their image unless the Soviets acted. Like all paranoid policies, it was characterized by repeated miscalculation.
One of the book’s most captivating disclosures is the way that KGB aggression did not change with detente; when the Foreign Ministry, the military and even the Kremlin ran against the KGB’s prerogatives for global Soviet power, the KGB routed around. The result was a death toll in the millions; and the decades-long fear that erratic Soviet behavior would lead to a nuclear apocalypse.
So it’s with horror and frustration that I see The Nation is running a series of essays asking if the world is really, really safer without the U.S.S.R. I’m embarrassed as a liberal by this shit. The liberals I know — those of my generation, certainly — have no nostalgia for an empire whose chief characteristics were slaughter and mass immiseration. The Nation would rather be Soviet Union Truthers.
Because that’s what you get from this bullshit package. It’s not an affirmative argument that the world was safer with the Soviet Union around. That would actually be more intellectually bracing than this dreck from Mikhail Gorbachev, who really is a titan of history:
In short, the world without the Soviet Union has not become safer, more just or more stable. Instead of a new world order—that is, enough global governance to prevent international affairs from becoming dangerously unpredictable—we have had global turmoil, a world drifting in uncharted waters. The global economic crisis that broke out in 2008 made that abundantly clear.
Wait, a lifelong Soviet apparatchik is going to decry the irrelevance of the United Nations? The man who opened his eyes to the chronic poverty endured by Soviet subjects is going to sit in judgment on a superior system’s economic faults? This isn’t an essay. It’s historical-counterfactual equivalent of performative skepticism. Do we know for suuuuure that the Towers weren’t knocked down by a controlled demolition? Reaaaaally? What, you believe that was really bin Laden on those tapes…
These aren’t good-faith arguments. They’re not even forthright defenses of the Soviet Union. They’re juvenile attempts at satisfaction through reminding everyone that the world didn’t magically attain perfection after the fall of the USSR. The right response to that is to improve the world, not to cultivate nostalgia for one of the central reasons the 20th century was a slaughterhouse.
Stephen P. Cohen swipes at straw men “commentators” here, caring more about historiography than the thing-itself. He’s upset at the “triumphalist narrative” in the U.S. — because you’re being a dick by not shedding a tear for what truly was an Evil Empire, even if the hated Ronald Reagan said it:
Because its seventy-four-year role in the twentieth century is still bitterly disputed, because the way it ended remains so controversial and because the full ramifications of its disappearance are still unclear, its fate can only confirm the Dutch historian Pieter Geyl’s axiom, “History is indeed an argument without end.”
Suffice it to say there are many Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Romanians, Hungarians, Finns, Ukrainians, Afghans and others who don’t really have much patience for Geyl in this context. If you can find an Afghan rebel that the Moscow bullets missed, ask him what he thinks of voting Communist.