Monday, March 28, 2011

When the Berlin Wall Fell. Echidne Thinks About International Politics.

My first emotion was intense fear. My next emotion was guilt because I should have been as joyous as others were. But the fear came from wondering how the balance of the world would be changed with the end of communism. The fall of the Soviet Union made one of the cups of the scale lighter and the scale tipped towards what now looks like unbridled and mafia-like capitalism.

The United States quickly acquired a new international enemy to take the place of communism: radical Islam. But that enemy doesn't serve the restraining purposes the Soviet Union did. If anything, many of the ideas in radical Islam are simply stronger versions of those American social conservatives already hold, and the fact that the most recent imaginary monster in the minds of American religious conservatives, for example, is a religious one, makes the religious right join with the corporate interests in fighting the new cold war.

This is very bad news for women. Where the old Soviet Union created pressure for Americans to educate their own girls and women in science (because the commies were doing it), what social pressure do the ideas of radical Islam place on the United States religious or anti-feminist right? Indeed, the reverse applies. American anti-feminists can now tell women that if they don't like the current society, just imagine how they would fare under the Taliban!

It is pretty clear that the old Soviet Union wasn't a feminist paradise. What I have learned about today's Russia suggests that old sex roles were officially put in the freezer for the duration of the Soviet Union, then defrosted and presented as eternal truths again. Russian women are routinely discriminated against in hiring, firing and promotions and domestic abuse rarely gets taken seriously.

This doesn't matter for my current argument, because it was the reaction of the west to the Soviet Union that changed the dialogue about the place of women. We have lost that countervailing power.

Likewise in the case of the markets. The mess in the housing and financial markets owes much to the lax or nonexistent government regulation and that, in turn, became the fashion right around the time the Berlin Wall fell. Because capitalism won! There was no longer much reason to fear a socialized system doing better, and nothing stopped powerful critics from trying to demolish many government activities in the west. They were successful as we know from the results.

The current class war against the working and middle classes links to this, too, and in pretty obvious ways. The United States and China both as unbridled capitalists! The global markets assigning jobs to those who accept a bowl of rice a day as their salary! What external pressures are there to stop workers from having their wages and pensions cut? The other cup in the scales remains empty.