Their lives were ruined because they were told that if they kept doing whatever they were doing, then the state would take care of them later on in their lives. And then Gorbachev introduced perestroika and glasnost and the system fell apart. The Soviet Union fell apart. Their lives fell apart. As the book portrays, at the top of the system, Marshal Sergei F. Akhromeyev, chief military adviser to President Mikhail S. Gorbachev, committed suicide, while a "commoner" literally set himself on fire.
The book also helps me understand the frustrations of the typical middle-class people here in the US, or in Britain. They were told that if they kept doing whatever they were doing, then their lives were set and that everything would work out fine. The Soviet Union fell apart. China and India opened up. The world's economy dramatically changed. The lives of the typical middle-class were altered forever, and tomorrow seems immensely more uncertain than yesterday ever was.
What puzzles me is this: Observing the world from the banks of the Willamette, and working at a podunk university where I am ignored and shunted away to a voiceless corner, I have been commenting for a long time about the urgency to fundamentally restructure the social contract, fully recognizing that the economic forces of today do not resemble those from the New Deal era, with technology further complicating things with innovations that keep upending more jobs.
So, ... I wondered when it was for the first time that I argued about the need for a new social contract. I was curious not about my writings in my blog, but in this guy's--I thought it might be a good indicator of how I have been yelling outside like a mad man ;) I tracked it down--May 23, 2013. At the end of a lengthy rant, I wrote there:
it is one loud reminder that the social contract is in tatters.Imagine if three years ago Congress here, and the Parliament in the UK, had really done constructive things in order to ease the new challenges that the typical middle class was facing. Instead, they didn't do shit. To make things worse, they further tightened the screws on the middle class. by slowly dismantling the little bit that was left. For instance, Mike knows well how expensive college has become now compared to his father's days when the government offered his father a much better social contract. College is merely one aspect of the social contract.
Of course, we are not going to agree on how to re-work and re-word a new contract. But, the shame of it all is that while a bunch of us folks from different parts of the world are talking about it here, the ones who should talk about these--the Congress--will stage some dramas, take a few photos, and then go home to screw people up some more.
I didn't give up. Almost exactly three years ago--June 26, 2013--at the end of another lengthy comment at another post, I wrote (note that OWS is Occupy Wall Street):
I don't think it is about economic growth as much as it is a disagreement over how the growth ought to be shared. It will be easier if only it were about economic growth alone. Turkey has had some fantastic growth over the years. It is really not about wanting more growth there. OWS was not about more growth, and neither are the protests in Brazil.I tell ya, it is the story of my life that nobody listens to me--not even Ramesh! ;)
In a few previous posts, here and at my blog, we have agreed, while disagreeing, that the time is ripe, or even overripe, in terms of rewriting various aspects of the social contract that exists within each country. Mere economic growth does not seem to be sufficient, though at least modest rates might be necessary.
I suspect that these issues will not go away any time soon because rewriting those contracts won't be easy.
David Brooks notes in his column over at the NY Times:
Their pain is indivisible: economic stress, community breakdown, ethnic bigotry and a loss of social status and self-worth. When people feel their world is vanishing, they are easy prey for fact-free magical thinking and demagogues who blame immigrants.Brexit, Bernie, and Trump are, therefore, no surprise to me. It is an interesting ironical coincidence that these are fomenting another revolution nearly a hundred years since that history-changing October Revolution. Oh, wait, the October Revolution was in November, and the US elections will be almost exactly the same date: November 8th. Cue the Twilight Zone theme ;)
I wonder how Putin and Russia will mark the one hundredth anniversary--not by inviting Gorbachev, I am sure!
ps: I intentionally used "Inquilab Zindabad" in the title of this post--to remind Ramesh about his post in 2013 ;)