The Uses and Disadvantages of Soviet History for Life

Welp! This is wrong. A single flashing memory from the sixth grade homeroom marks my sixth-grade recollection of the collapse of Soviet Union. In 1991, my class had one of those globe maps that slides down like roller shades. I remember feeling a little upset that the teacher would have to replace it.

Retrospectively, it was more to do with geopolitics than the difficulties of purchasing new teaching aids for the public schools. However, it was at that time a fitting anticlimactic.

Although I grew up in the D.C. Beltway, I wasn’t raised with duck-and-cover nukes or was very aware of the Cold War. It was well into the final days that the Soviet Union collapsed before my brain could process its true consequences. Red DawnThe guerrilla children in the letter jackets were anti-communist and was a very kitschy piece of period art when I first saw it. Although I vaguely knew that it was just after midnight, the Doomsday Clock was always there.

But then suddenly the end didn’t seem so near. My formative years as a teenager were spent at the end history, not the end. My political and economic sensibilities, for the most part were formed following the fall of Soviet communism. There was no conflict among the global superpowers and it had already ended. Elder pundits worry that Kids These Days forget the September day when the planes collided with the World Trade Center. But the war on terror is a mere blip—albeit a deadly and expensive one—compared to the other mostly metaphorical war of our recent past.

On the premise that history is repeatable, it’s tempting to ram relevant lessons down the throats a young, forgetful generation. This temptation is amplified when Generation Z shows a growing disdain for globalization and capitalism. Friedrich Nietzsche pointed out that it was counterproductive for young minds to be filled with knowledge, but not enough to satisfy their hunger.

He said that historical education was “wholesome” and “promising for the future” in his book “On the Uses & Disadvantages History for Life.” But it is only for a “powerful, new life-giving influence.” It is not likely that learning about communism’s legacy in school will do the trick. I have never felt a powerful, new life-giving influence while studying history or in the classroom. It’s difficult to believe that the young, glued to their smartphones at all times, are doing better than those who have been observing these events from afar.

It won’t be enough for us to swim in circles around a bowl of plastic castles, as we are not like them. This issue of Reason contains stories about the moment of collapse 30 years ago and the aftermath of that global struggle.

The causes of collapse of Soviet empire are still up for debate, but the main issues in our political fights today revolve around the failure of economic central plan and the large amount of energy that was spent to hide this truth.

Russian émigré Cathy Young describes her lifelong fact-checking mission to remind the American left that the Soviet Union was a dark, deprived place to grow up in the 1970s (page 8). Matt Welch recounts his experiences as a Prague newspaper editor from the early 1990s. There he witnessed the chaotic aftermath of communist rule (page 62).

Jarett Decker, a scholar of emerging markets asks hard questions about American market theorists’ role in Russia’s disastrous post-Soviet economic development (page 24). Liz Wolfe describes how a man’s limited experience with American abundance shaped a propaganda fantasy about Russian cuisine (page 60). Jesse Walker explores whether it is possible to keep markets at bay and what the best ways are for them both. sub rosa “red markets” sustained communist authoritarians for longer than they deserved (page 50). Stephanie Slade writes about the unlikely bedfellows—President Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and a network of labor unions—who helped bring down communism in Poland (page 54).

This issue will also include updates on the post-Soviet states. They aren’t meant to be exhaustive, but to give a glimpse of the many long-term consequences of Soviet communism. For anyone seeking easy lessons, the different outcomes of these countries are both instructive and often baffling.

Feeling like an outsider to history is a horrible thing. I will admit to envying the feeling of possibility and radical freedom that early Gen Xers felt 30 years ago.

It turned out that the Doomsday Clock in 1991 was one of the most positive about humankind. The clock was showing 17 minutes until midnight at the end of this momentous year. Original idea by Manhattan Project participants, and other people who helped to create the project. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in 1947, the clock originally was devoted primarily to monitoring the threat of global nuclear annihilation. It is now called The BulletinLike ReasonThe magazine grew out of a collection of mimeographed essays. You’ll never tire of it.

The clock-keepers shifted to non-nuclear threat, including concerns over climate change and biological annihilation, after the 1991 optimism burst. Doomsday Clock will be 100 seconds before midnight on 2021.

In this moment of relative material comfort, it’s difficult to understand the existenceential terror and constant grind for survival that accompanied humanity during the Cold War. The current forms of communism, even though they may be illusory or unsustainable, reap the benefits from globalization.

It is hard to say whether the situation today is worse than it was in 1960s. Is it possible that the clock’s hands are capturing actual threats, or are they just reflecting a bizarre kind of apocalypse pleasure? Perhaps all times really are the exciting times the Chinese curse curses upon us.

Nietzsche thought that the best way to create modern, vigorous people is to make them like a goldfish, or a cow. They should live in the moment, without being influenced by their predecessors’ failures or greatness.

It is only in retrospect that it feels like a blessing for having reached adulthood during this brief period of history. The experience was disappointing at the time. Many of us felt cynical, lazy and that all the important things had been accomplished. Many of us believed the big battles were won, and our task was to fix things and enjoy ourselves.

The feeling of being surrounded by constant apocalypses, however, is just as exhausting. TikTok teens can fluently list the various disasters they have experienced as reasons for their fatigue, anxiety, disaffection, and paralysis.

The chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov, an activist and chess grandmaster, sat down to discuss the matter with Reason to talk about his unique experience as a Soviet hero and dissident (page 38), he worried about the effects of public amnesia. “Communism and socialism,” he says, have “become popular because people don’t recall what happened….Younger audiences, I think many of them, they couldn’t even tell apart the Cold War and the Trojan War. This is just an ancient historical fact. This issue also features other stories by him. Reason hopes to revive and reanimate the dark history of communism and its aftermath in a way that is useful for life.