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History 101 For 2017 America Part One: The Soviet Union

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I recently talked to a friend who was really concerned about the presidency of Donald Trump. I noticed that I was talking about a bunch of allegories to what's going on that she didn't get since she didn't simply have the free time I had to study them. I am fortunate to have had that free time as being aware of what's gone before has made things a whole lot less scary, although more frustrating when people don't heed the warnings of an amateur historian.

What America is going through right now is scary - but it's going to seem a hell of a lot more scary if there is little to no historical reference. This is not the fault of the average person. College is for profit in the United States, pricing out a great number of people, and I truthfully did not get in to the meat of international affairs until I took upper division college courses on it. Almost everything I learned before that was a redundant replay of America's "founding fathers." I had to seek out other things.

America is falling apart and will likely fall for real within a decade or two. However, it's not some special anomaly. Empires fall - it's what they do. The spheres of influence that empires gain do not last forever. This post is meant to provide some clarity to people who want to relate to the larger experience. In order to make this easy to digest, I'm doing these in parts - I will follow up with other historical events later on. I'm also using a good amount of carefully selected video and keeping the text to a minimum.

The Soviet Union

In 1917, the world was coming out of World War One. The charismatic radical Vladimir Lenin, in the hopes of potentially destabilizing the Tsar in Russia, took control of Russia and formed the first communist society. There's a really excellent video about this by Catholic News Service, which I think sums up what occurred very well:

The revolution eventually became dominated by Josef Stalin, a strongman who purged revolutionary Leon Trotsky, and turned the regime toward a more state security centered regime. The elements of socialism were still there, however. The Soviet Union succeeded in defeating the Nazis after Hitler invaded in "the Great Patriotic War," that is what Russians call World War II.

The Nazis, despite their portrayal in the west, were funded and supported by western industry until they got out of control. The Nazis were focused on curbing communism, a phenomenon they blamed on the Jews. Despite losing over 30 million people in World War II, a quarter of their population, the Soviet Union went on to compete with the West throughout the Cold War until the 1980s.

The Soviet Union was filled with all sorts of projects and extravagances that have now been largely forgotten. Large plans, mining projects and communal rural villages stand abandoned throughout Russia and the former Soviet Union, a testament to what was before. Similarly, the United States now has its own version of the same thing - abandoned shopping malls and mega churches.

The Soviet Union dissolved in 1989 after premeire Mikhail Gorbachev adopted a series of Western designed reforms that led to the regime's sudden dissolution. Stories of that time were of a system that didn't work - many people worked without getting their checks, the country's systems were fractured and ethnic tensions abounded (all things happening in the contemporary United States).

The following decade was monstrous - Yugoslavia, a region also known as the Balkans that was peaceful and prosperous during the Soviet era, broke in to dozens of countries, with genocide letting loose between differing groups. The phrase "Balkanized" came from that conflict. In my personal view, Yugoslavia is the nightmare version of what could happen in America when it finally loses its financial privilege - with nothing holding people together, they will turn on one another. An estimated 140,000 people died in the Yugoslav wars and 4 million were displaced.

That situation is a bit too complex to write about without being heavy handed. This video series should help:

The Russian Federation 

The Soviet Union turned in to the Russian Federation after the Cold War, shrinking its population from nearly a billion down to 100 million or so. The first president of the Russian Federation was Boris Yeltsin, a western influenced leader much like Gorbachev. The United States openly intervened to help put Yeltsin in power in the late 1990s. Yeltsin resigned in the late 1990s and assigned former KGB agent Vladimir Putin (sound familiar?) in to power.

Putin has been there since, engineering elections to make sure he can stay for more terms than the Russian Federation's constitution allows (he once had vice president Dmetry Medvedev step in as president, only to amend the constitution so Putin could continue on), while also enjoying significant popularity. Putin's main goal as leader of Russia has been to stabilize Russia and to bring former parts of the Soviet empire back in to its fold, hince his intervention in Ukraine, Crimea, Chechnya and Syria (Syrian leader Bashir Assad's father was very close to the Soviet Union).

Russian and American relations have deteriorated as he has done this, as Russian influence and American influence are fundamentally at odds with one another. If Putin seemed in support of American president Donald Trump, it is merely because Trump talked about making peace with Russia, a false campaign claim that may have been a manipulative move by Trump. Their relationship has quickly deteriorated since Trump became president.

The allegories seem strong. As a bumbling buffoon in power while his country burns, Trump does reflect Yeltsin in many ways. He also is giving the security class blank check. However, that begs to mind what sort of security enforcing leader that the United States would have after Trump.

Recommending reading: Putinism: Russia and its Future with the West by Walter Laqueur.

The Rebirth of East Europe by Michael Roskin. (I read this in college.)

Safe Area Gorazde by Joe Sacco and Christopher Hitchens.


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Michael Orion is a blogger, writer, artist and photographer based in the Bay Area. Besides his maintenance and promotion of Radical Second Things, he contributes to the San Francisco newspaper SF Western Edition, where he writes about local non-profit organizations.

Mark Cappetta is a practicing Catholic and active LGBT activist. He has been instrumental in keeping Radical Second Things and updates the Facebook account almost daily.

Eva Gnostiquette is an artist, programmer, "future scientist," bi-trans girl and graphic designer. She voluntarily helped to create the first print issue Radical Second Things and designed our beautiful banners. Thanks so much, Eva!

Jordan Denato is a professional artist based out of Iowa. He took the initiative to illustrate both Jennifer Reimer's story and Michael Orion's Oscar Romero work. He has his own art studio, Tar and Feather Studios, and is a critical part of Radical Second Things.

Radical Second Things is a liberation theology themed blog that has clear cut goals - we see the structural decline of the United States and much of the west and hope to present alternatives that will offer "a preferential option for the poor" as more become vulnerable.

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