we are Still Paying for the Cold War
by Jonathan Larson
It was the kind of Washington party to which everyone hopes they will
be invited. The host and most of the guests were the upper level bureaucrats
who actually get Washington's work done. There was a development specialist
for the World Bank, a man who had labored in the vinyards of the Office
of Management and Budget--surviving budget directors such as Bert Lance
and David Stockman, a woman who administered federal aid to cities, and
a patent attorney, among others. The host worked for the State Department
doing something unspecified and had worked for the C.I.A. doing, he assured
me, nothing but interpret satellite photos.
The conversation was fast and brash and very 'inside' Washington. The food
was excellent, the wine well chosen, and the crystal sparkled. This was not
a catered affair--the host and hostess did all the work--but it was 1982, the
Reagans had brought flamboyance to Washington entertaining, and this was a
tasteful execution of the new mandate.
I was clearly an outsider at this gathering. Not only was I not 'Washington,'
I was barely American. I was from Minnesota, the state with a political asterisk.
Minnesota's distinction is that it never voted for Reagan and I was at a table
full of people whose job it was to see that the Reagan revolution became action.
George (not his real name) the host was seated next to me at dinner. Like any
outsider, I did not want to appear stupid so I dredged around in my mind in
search of a worthy question suited to a high-level State Department type. A
recent international event that was both obscure and significant flashed into
my mind--the Moscow funeral of Mikhail Suslov. ABC news showed footage of this
enormous parade with ribbon-bedecked aging generals of the Red Army carrying
wreaths to be laid at the gravesite in the Kremlin Wall. It was reported that
the parade was the biggest since the victory parade ending World War II.
But as is typical of television news in USA, we were told there was a parade
but we were not told who this Suslov was and why his death caused such an outpouring
of national fervor.
Fortunately, 10 years earlier, a young Finnish intellectual, who confessed
to be a great admirer of Suslov's, had explained the role Suslov played in
the Soviet Government. As I remember the discussion, his points were:
1) The Communists of the Soviet Union have been embattled since the day they
came to power. Top party positions have always gone to men of ruthless ambition.
Such men are not intellectuals.
2) The Bolsheviks may have eliminated the influence of the Orthodox church,
but they could not eliminate the need for someone to translate the `official'
religion into the practice of everyday life. The archbishop was replaced by
the offical party intellectual. And from the 1930's, Suslov was that man--the
'Archbishop' who officially interpreted Marx.
3) Suslov may have been his most treacherous when he penned the Breshnev Doctrine
following the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968. Even so, many of Suslov's
writings appealed to my Finnish friend. "After all," he said, "many
things in Soviet society work very well--most especially education. Suslov
may have been forced to apologise for some bad decisions made by the Red Army,
but Suslov's legacy will come after he dies. Because of Suslov's direction
to education, Soviet society may evolve into true Socialism."
But Suslov apologised for Stalin, so it was tempting to believe my Finnish
friend was overstating the case. In fact, in the end, Suslov really acted like
a crochety old man with the Red Army at his disposal. Suslov may have planted
the seeds of reform, but there would be no reform until he was out of the way.
All of this was buzzing through my head as I directed my best out-of-town question
to my host. "George, do you think that the death of Suslov will finally
lead to the transformation of Soviet society?"
George looked thunderstruck. Furiously, he began fishing through his mental
file searching for the name Suslov. Finding none, he reverted to the Cold War
party line. "No, Soviet society is beyond reform?"
"But," I persisted, "Isn't Suslov's death a momentous event in
history? The Russians certainly think so. Did you see footage from his funeral
"No, but I hardly think that the death of one Russian can mean much. What
was his job anyway?"
George gave a hoot, "Party intellectual? Isn't that an oxymoron? Propagandist
is probably more like it. What possible difference can it make who the party
intellectual is at any given moment? After all, all Russians think alike!"
My head began to swim. I looked around the room. I heard the development specialist
of the World Bank explaining that the greatest impediment to Third World development
was the lack of people trained in dual-entry accounting while across from her,
the OMB bureacrat was explaining the latest theory of why Reaganomics would
result in a balanced budget, This sleek, educated, and ambitious crowd suddenly
had been transformed into a gathering of the village idiots.
I directed my attention back to George who was opening a stunning German wine
to go with dessert. The American taxpayer was paying for this splendor. George
was being paid to know something about the world outside the borders. He was
being paid for his intelligence. Yet he had just said possibly the most demonstatively
stupid sentence I had ever heard. Imagine the odds against nearly 300,000,000
people in a country that covers 11 time zones all having identical thoughts.
But people will say, give the man a break. He was just making conversation.
He was saying what most people in the U.S. are taught to believe and that is
that Communism is a monolithic evil. Who interprets Marxism is of little importance
compared to the basic nature of Marxism. He knew that all Russians do not think
alike, he was talking about the Communist Party where unanimous votes are the
But this does not let George off the hook. Aside from the fact he was being
paid to know such minutae, there is the issue of what sorts of problems his
thinking engenders. Because Suslov was not worth studying except as a propagandist
for dictators, the U.S. State Department soon found itself incapable of understanding
one of Suslov's prize pupils--Mikail Gorbachev.
What was to be made of a leader of the formost atheist state who meets with
the pope, tells his people that religion has a role in his society, and tells
the press that his mother is a believer?
What was to be made of a leader who sets out to correct and atone for every
act that has brought his nation valid international criticism over the last
Finally, how can a Marxist also be a democrat? This last question is truly
the saddest because it points out the damage done to the U.S. as a result of
the Cold War. The abuse of the language (i.e. the opposite of Communism is
Democracy) has finally become an obstical to true understanding. George is
not a stupid fellow--in fact he learned his lessons well
1) The only good Commie is a dead Commie. Who could have missed that message?
Even Dan Quayle learned that one.
2) If a person or country is worth destroying, there is no need to know anything
good about it. The effort required for true understanding of another country
is certainly not worth the work if the country is to be an enemy.
3) We're number one. No matter how many problems we have, everyone everywhere
else has it worse. The only thing we really have to know about foreigners is
that they want to be like us. They especially envy our system of govenment.
4) We are a superpower. Our power lies in our military who defends us from
a hostile world. All threats are military.
5) We are good people who are fighting the forces of evil. Communism was that
How could anyone who believes the basic lessons taught Americans believe a
Gorbachev was possible in a Marxist state. Where did he come from?
The view from up close
My summer of 1989 was spent in Lappeenranta Finland, a city of 55,000 people
located about 10 miles from the border with the U.S.S.R. The good citizens
of Lappeenranta are the precise opposite of our friend in the State Department
when it comes to making assessments of the Soviet Union. In fact, each person
was forced to make a very personal decision about what he or she chose to believe
about the U.S.S.R. The historical relationship between Lapeenranta and the
U.S.S.R., and before that, Imperial Russia, can most charitably be described
Lappeenranta began as a resort for the St. Petersberg elites during the reign
of Catherine the Great. It is located on the south shore of a huge lake called
Saimaa (sigh-ma)--part of an awesome chain of lakes which extend 500 miles
to the north. Studded with thousands of islands, this was a lake to match the
imperial pretensions of the visitors to its spa. Lappeenranta got its big boost
as a city when a canal was dug between Lake Saimaa and Vyborg, the old Hansa
city on the Baltic. This made it possible for forest products from almost 1/3
of Finland to be moved into the oceans, all by water.
But Lappenranta is more than merely a commercially convenient trans-shipment
point for forest products, it is the 'capital' of Karelia. This has proven
to be important in its history because the relationship between the Karelians
and the Soviet Union has not been happy in the very recent past.
Karelians are one of those tribes of history destined to be caught between
large and beligerant neighbors. Theirs has not been an easy life. The latest
Karelian nightmare began in 1939 when Stalin's army invaded Finland in the
Winter War. The Finns fought bravely, but were finally overwhelmed. Naturally,
most of the fighting was in Karelian Finland so this was also a matter of physical
damage as well as lives lost. When the war was over in 1945, Finland maintained
its independence from the Soviet Union only by agreeing to pay war reparations,
and allowing them to redraw the borders. The part of Finland lost to the U.S.S.R.
was most of Karelia.
500,000 Karelians fled to Finland rather than live under Stalin. Finland's
immediate post-war situation was grave indeed. They had lost economically valuable
territory, their cities and industries were damaged, there were staggering
war reparation payments, and 500,000 people to house and feed and employ.
Fortunately, there was little cultural resistance to this flood of refugees
in the rest of Finland. The government settled them evenly throughout the country
so no one area was overwhelmed. But it is also the Karelians themselves who
have gained a reputation as a optimistic, hardworking, hard-drinking bunch.
A Karelian penned the Kalevela, the great Finnish epic myth and this has led
others to describe the Karelians as the true Finns. This certainly greased
the skids of assimilation.
But Lappeenranta was very hard hit by these events. Vyborg, the Hansa city
on the Baltic was now in the Soviet Union. People fled Vyborg to Lappeenranta
with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Economically, Lappeenranta suffered
because the canal to Vyborg was both damaged and partly in Soviet hands.
There was also damage done to Lappeenranta's people. Most of the surviving
men of an entire generation had been physically crippled or emotionally damaged
(or both) from the war. People in their 40's can still recall when the screams
of a man with a war-related nightmare would awaken an entire neighborhood.
The center of the city has a large graveyard of the fallen in battle, many
transported after their death from places that are now in the Soviet Union.
There is a carefully maintained museum dedicated to the history of Vyborg in
Lappeenranta. There are Karelians who want no one to forget how beautiful that
city was before it was turned into a dump by the Russians.
There are literally dozens of reasons why the good citizens of Lappeenranta
could hate the Soviet Union. But not all of them do--not by any stretch of
the imagination. Over the years, people of good will and some of enterprise
have done wonders to bind up the wounds. In 1968, the canal to Vyborg was re-opened.
Border restrictions were relaxed and people could visit their old homes in
Vyborg. The citizens of Lappeenranta can get Russian television and many speak
Russian. Regular cross-border cultural happenings are arranged between these
But as Karelians are probably no more forgiving as a group than the rest of
humanity, it seems likely the benign view the people of Lappeenranta take of
their neighbors to the east is tied up with economics for Lappeenranta became
a very prosperous little city.
They earned their prosperity. Finland must live on her forests for she has
virtually no other natural resource. Forced by war reparations to expand their
economy, Finland sent thousands of its Karelian refugees into the forests to
harvest trees with axes because in the devastation following the war, Finland
could not afford something as simple as a chainsaws.
Paper, plywood, and wood products still dominate the economic landscape of
Lappeenranta. There is a technological university, a small symphony, a conservatory
of music and other trappings of a small city with a great deal of cultural
pride. People complain of high prices for housing and food but people seem
to have money for foreign vacations and other luxuries. And everyone knows
they would be much worse off in Vyborg where the shelves are bare.
The people of Lappeenranta will tell you how they feel about the Soviet Union
only after a bit of prodding. Some of it is reluctance to speak to an American
who they suspect as being hopelessly bewildered about the subject of anything
Soviet. At least five times I was told about the American who while visiting
Lappeenranta, whispered during her whole stay because she was so nervous about
being so close to the Soviet Union. My response would be to tell the story
of the State department official who tried to answer my question about Suslov.
So, how do the citzens of Lappeenranta feel about the Soviet Union? That depends
on who you speak to. The construction worker who commutes to the U.S.S.R. thinks
it is a great place to make money, the high-tech business advisor views them
as the source of an almost unlimited supply of underutilized science which
can be brokered into joint ventures, and some of the old women view them as
the reason for their miserable lives as they nursed war-damaged men.
All were worried about economic instability in the U.S.S.R. One said, "they
cannot live on cultural reform." Some worried that economic instability
would lead to political instability.
And then there are the problems in Estonia. Estonians are the only ethnic cousins
the Finns have. Finnish is close enough to Estonian that the people in Tallin
can watch and understand Finnish television. They are both Lutheran countries.
Everyone in Finland, it seems, is an expert on the situation in Estonia and
almost all of them hope that the Estonian Nationalists succeed in one form
or the other.
The most progressive of the Finns, however, saw the Gorbachev revolution as
an opportunity to expand all forms of ties to the U.S.S.R.--cultural, political
and economic. And they are the experts. One of the great nightmares of the
political right in the U.S. was that Western Europe would become 'Finlandized.'
To almost everyone's surprise, it is Eastern Europe which is now actively seeking
to form relationships with the U.S.S.R. which are similar to Finland's. And
an even more interesting question can be asked, "Do the Finns, who have
shared a more or less peaceful border with the U.S.S.R., have anything to teach
us now that peace is breaking out between East and West?"
In spite of the fact that the U.S.S.R. does not produce much of interest for
international trade, the Finns have prospered by trading with them. In many
respects Finland treats the U.S.S.R. as an economic colony--importing raw material
and exporting finished goods. Of course, the Finns are far too modest to actually
admit this reality, but Soviet trade ralations with Finland are so important
that during the world-wide shortages of petroleum products in 1973 and 1979,
the U.S.S.R. kept its contract commitments to Finland even when it reduced
shipments to Eastern Europe.
But the natural resources of the U.S.S.R. will be insufficient to sustain much
significant trade and the Finns know it. The biggest problem with trading with
the U.S.S.R. is that the Ruble is worthless. How are you going to be paid?
Fortunately, the Soviets have something of great value--their science. It is
estimated that of all the science in the world, the U.S.S.R. produces about
15%. This is roughly equal to the output of the U.S.A. or all of Western Europe
The problem is that Soviet industry is virtually incapable of turning this
science into useful products. Gorbachev introduced the new Soviet buzzword
'joint ventures.' As it relates to Soviet science, it means that virtually
all of their science--even that relating to the military, is now open to joint
ventures with foreign companies. Of course, we do not know how much of their
science they are retaining for their own internal development. We are sure
they are witholding what they think to be their best. But one never knows which
science will be commercially important and the sheer volumn of scientific material
being released means there are many gems to be mined from that pile of material.
One can only imagine the changes necessary for the U.S. to see the world as
the Finns see it. And one is truly staggered by the missed opportunities because
of the damage the Cold War mentality caused.
The Finns, it turns out, paid quite dearly for their close economic ties to
the Soviet Union. In 1989, their special relationship made them the fourth
richest country in Europe. Now they have one of EU's highest rate of unemployment
because their economy has been dragged down by the troubles in Russia--troubles
that were completely avoidable--troubles that were largely caused by utterly
stupid economic advice dispensed by Cold War brain-damaged Americans such as
He would have been right at home at the Washington party mentioned above. In
fact, he would have been a honored guest!
RETURN TO: VEBLEN FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM
RETURN TO: Correcting the history
of Thorstein Veblen