Monday, July 30, 2012


Fascinating little website on the history of Soviet atomic weapons.
The Soviet experiment is kind of intriguing and mostly appalling.

It's difficult for an American of 2012 - whose nation is only now beginning to exhume some of the worst aspects of one of the worst periods of governance and social economy (for those of us not in the two-yacht families) in its history - to really understand how for its entire fucking history the polity that is Russia and was the USSR does not have, and never has had, anything remotely approaching a political and economic system that had the sort of responsiveness and approachability that we associate with our own, as corrupt and ridiculous as it is.

Pre-Soviet Russia was an autocracy typified by a vast and brutal clumsiness. When the Soviets overthrew the czar, sadly, they adopted many of the czarist ways. When the Soviets fell they retained much of their economic crudity while devolving back into czarist kleptocracy.

What this has tended to produce is a society and a nation where - though many people have lived decent lives in decent circumstances (as in any society) - the sort of brute-force solutions that often were and are the Russian style can make things very bad for very many very suddenly.
You could extrapolate a lot from the picture at the top; a land that produced a nuclear weapon held together with rivets and assembled by men whose lives came straight out of a novel by Gogol.

(h/t to Lawyers, Guns, and Money that posted this link today)


nundanket said...

Hi, been enjoying your blog for several months now (must be something about being a left-leaning, football and mil hist geek!)
Never felt inclined to comment on a post until your latest post about Russia/USSR. The only person I know to have lived in the SU, post-SU independent state, the US and the UK would quite happily attest to the fact that the Soviet Union benefitted most of its residents and compared favourable to the capitalist economies she has lived in. And that's not from the point of view of someone who found herself at the bottom of the economic pile in the West.
I might not have enjoyed it but I know she's in a better position to judge than me.

PS Wiggo's win in the Tour has been massive news over here. Never thought a Brit would win in my lifetime.

nundanket said...

PPS Was that Soviet bomb

nundanket said...

Sorry meant to say "was that Soviet bomb any less effective for having rivets? I'm sure the average squaddie/GI in Afghanistan won't be complaining because the IUD that just went off was made in someone's goat shed and was held together by duct tape. Unlike ice-dance there are no marks for artistic merit."

FDChief said...


Let me get around to what I think I said in a moment, but just re: your last comment, I think the average squaddie in the Soviet Army would have been the living example of the Soviet military philosophy of "quantity has a quality all its own but it sure sucks to be the one who has to make that work..." A U.S. GI would have driven over that mine in a fancy MRAP; the Soviet troop would have been told to just drive down the road, anyway, since he'd trigger the mine so that the guy behind him could get past. Soviet infantry battalions attacked straight through minefields in WW2; you note that the Soviet Army never developed the equivalent of the flail tank.

Look at how many Soviet Army squaddies died because Stalin butchered half the competent commanders in his insane purges in the Thirties? Then, after surviving sledgehammer tactics and being captured hundreds of thousands of the POWs who survived the vicious Nazi thugs to the mines on Nova Zemlya.

Life was pretty tough for a Soviet grunt.


No question that for many people, for much of the time, life in The Soviet Union and Russia must have been tolerable.

Don't get me wrong - I'm no rabid capitalist, as you can probably tell from many of my other posts. "Freedom" in the Western sense often means just the freedom to starve; it's not for nothing that Anatole France said that Western law "in it's impartial majesty forbids rich and poor alike to steal bread and sleep under bridges".

But the problem with the USSR was that there WAS no law that the Politbureau, or Stalin, or the local committee couldn't break, or twist, or use. And Russia had no tradition of governance that made the welfare of "the people" a genuine concern, or gave those people any say in their welfare. And the not-unexpected result was pretty draconian.

My thought is that it wasn't the Soviet Union - i.e. it wasn't a communist/capitalist thing; it was a Russian thing. The Soviets overthrew the czar, then took over the old czarist habits; autocratic rule, secret police, brutal repression of dissent, economic crudity and clumsiness.

The West, our countries of the U.S. and Britain, have all sorts of problems and, IMO, are headed for worse in the way our radical reactionary parties are dragging us back into the Gilded Age.

But Russia's history is one of open autocracy that has - for all the benign moments and human decency that take up most of the days in any society - featured repeated episodes of stunning brutality.

So it's not that the Soviet Union was all horror. It's that unlike the West, where we typically experience our horrors as individuals or small groups, when someone in power in Russia decided on a horror - killing millions of kulaks, whatever - it could devastate entire regions or classes.

FDChief said...

And I think the amazing thing about the Wiggins Tour is that he's just one of a bunch of terrific British cyclists. I think that Chris Froome could have won the Tour this year if he'd been on a different team.

If this group develops as it could and should I think that British cycling fans should be very pleased. I know I was delighted for the British fans lining the route as Wiggo and Team SKY roared past. It was truly amazing, and I was amazed as you were.

basilbeast said...

Well now, I find something strange about your hometown and here you are comparing Russians and Murricans.

Here's the strange, from FDL

KEVIN GOSZTOLA, The Dissenter: What can you describe has unfolded in the United States with these raids over the last few weeks going back to the raid in Seattle when Occupy Seattle organizers were raided?

WILL POTTER, What’s been going on in the last couple weeks in the Northwest is there’s been a series of raids and grand jury subpoenas in Seattle, Olympia, Washington and Portland, Oregon. The raids and search warrants lists that the FBI and Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF) were searching for “anarchist literature” alongside flags, banners, electronics, cell phones, address books and things like that. I think what’s most indicative of what’s going on though is that specific call for agents to seize “anarchist literature” as some kind of evidence of potential illegal activity. And with the grand jury, that’s especially troubling because grand juries have been used historically against social movements as tools of fishing expeditions and there used to seek out information about people’s politics and their political associations. So, I think that gives some indication where all of this is going.

ISTM the kleptocracy, clumsiness, and here's the money shot from yourself:

then took over the old czarist habits; autocratic rule, secret police, brutal repression of dissent, economic crudity and clumsiness.

Plutocracy yes, oligarchy certainly, and I'm preaching to the choir, yes.

And these rich super fucks are in essence running the gov't through their money and influence, and showing that they are as incompetent at governance as any can be.

And now, we're getting the police state. Not everywhere, obviously, but just follow the news wherever there's an "Occupy" action, and you'll find infiltration by secret agents, beatings, imprisonment w/out the benefit of habeas rights, all the fun things short of, so far anyway, actual torture.

The news from Anaheim maybe just the tip of the icecube.


basilbeast said...

And just to prove how bad it's all going to pot, I enter the silly word + number, sign in to Google, which tells me I failed, then I go back, type in another silly word and number and woy lah, I'm in!

Back to point, however, personally I detect in these conservative swings back to authoritarianism, even as Obama seats his tush in the WH, an abhorrent streak of Evil, Calvinism gone crazy.

And racism, and hatred of outsiders.


Podunk Paul said...

FD Chief,
I really admire your work, the way energy flows when you write. That said, it’s difficult to understand your notion that a return to the Gilded Age is the worst in store for us. About all that Gilded Age plutocrats had working for them were suborned legislators and Pinkertons. Today we must contend, or be prepared to contend with, NSA, digital surveillance, face-recognition software, drones, and so on. If you doubt that, try entering the U.S. from the south.

FDChief said...

basil and Paul: At the rate we are putting down out breeches and handing our aristocratic daughters the rod we will soon find out why Lear went so fucking mad.

One thing that nundanket's comments remind us is that revolutions - whether Red or French - don't happen because the mass of the people are hoping and striving for better things. They happen because the rich fucks have screwed the public dog so fucking hard and so fucking long that it's either rebel or be crushed.

That's why I dread the next couple of decades; because these clueless idiot Romneys and Gingriches and Bernankes and the assorted Masters of the Universe are going to repeat every fucking mistake of the Goulds and the Rockefellers - only this time with drones, wiretaps, "indefinite detention", and "enhanced interrogation".

And what comes after?

Believe it or not, it'll be as much worse as Stalin was worse then the czar.

God help us; we are SO fucked...

rangeragainstwar said...

It doesn't matter what economic system either country had. The real question is why any country,to include Iran should want or need nukes as weapons.
All of these weapons should be outlawed , but who would enforce the rule?
Surely not the US.
We get cranked up about iran, and we are the problem.
Social services in America are trumped by the nuclear arsenal.

Podunk Paul said...

Yesterday the ACLU released “Cross Cultural, Rapport-Based Interrogation,” written by an FBI counter-terrorism section chief and dated 2011.

This document makes two recommendations. The first is for FBI agents urge that suspects held in foreign prisons be isolated “for several days before you begin interrogation” and during “multi-session, multi-day [interrogations]. The FBI, by its own guidelines, cannot use isolation as a technique to break down resistance. But we all understand the conveniences of out-sourcing.

The second recommendation, repeated numerous times in the document,is that agents become familiar with the CIA KUBRIC “how-to” torture manual. Section 9 of KUBRIK goes into diabolically exquisite detail on ways to inflict pain.

Why, one wonders, should the federal police need such information?

rangeragainstwar said...

the fbi aren't federal police.
police protect and serve.
The fbi are gov't agents and they protect and serve the gov't.

Ael said...

The Soviets did have mine roller tanks

They placed their flexibility higher in their command structure which implied that lower levels could not spend time farting around. It is not that they lacked elegance, but that they put it in unfamiliar locations.

Taken to the extreme, you end up with the famous soviet "headless" man and Stalin starving millions because he needed the foreign exchange to industrialize.

FDChief said...

Ael: Whoa - good catch!

I stand throughly corrected. Not only did the Soviets have mine-clearing tanks, but according to one source they pretty much invented the mine-roller; "The PT-3 was the ancestor of modern Soviet and Russian mine-rolling systems, as well as ISraeli derivatives. The mine rollers used on U.S. Army M1A1 Abrams tanks...are descended from the PT-3 system, via the Israeli types." (Zaloga, S., 1994, T-34/76 Medium Tank, 1941-1945: Osprey Publishing)

But I note that the first operation use of these things wasn't until the summer of 1944. The first actual deployment was on the Voronezh Front in 1943.

The Allies had a working mine roller/mine flail by the winter of 1942...

So I take back some of the hard things I said. But Ael has the crux of the biscuit; "It is not that they lacked elegance, but that they put it in unfamiliar locations. Taken to the extreme, you end up with the famous soviet "headless" man and Stalin starving millions because he needed the foreign exchange to industrialize."

Well put, Ael, well put - I wish I'd said that.