Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Who won the Cold War

I sometimes wonder, who the real winner of the Cold War was. Traditional wisdom is that capitalism won over communism, right ? The Western world over the Soviet bloc. Freedom and liberty over authoritarianism and government control. Etc Etc. But I wonder if this is really true ?

Take the capitalism versus state enterprise debate. Today capitalism is a four letter word to much of the world. The fastest growing economy in the world and the second largest, China,  is significantly  state enterprise driven. Government expenditure as a % of GDP is 53% in France (surprise surprise), 47% in the UK, 43% in Germany and in supposedly the bastion of free market capitalism, the United states, 39%. Government spending has propped up the global economy for five years now and bailed out financial institutions when they were mired in the quicksand.

What about freedom and liberty. After the revelations over the last couple of days from a certain Edward Snowden, we may have to redefine the word liberty. If I told you that the government listened to your every word, read every e mail and tracked every movement of yours, you would naturally think that the government in question would be Russia or North Korea. Instead we now know that it is the US of A and that their snooping is not not just restricted to US nationals, but literally everybody in the world (the fact that there are howls of protest in the US about snooping on US citizens , but perfect acceptability of snooping on an Indian citizen like me is an interesting definition of the word liberty in America). That this revelation is met with a big yawn in China, where this is just routine practice further annotates my point.

Force feeding prisoners in Guantanamo, keeping them in detention forever without a trial is not very different from what the gulags did in the Soviet Union.  Even at the height of its powers the Soviet Union did not kill citizens of another country from the air with impunity as the US does today with drones. If the Soviet Union brutalised Afghanistan invading it needlessly and tyrannically, you could perhaps make the same point with the US and Iraq.

The citizens of the Soviet Union could never get out and go elsewhere. Those in the  West were blissfully free to go where they pleased. Is that really true now ? Anybody from any country who has to get a visa to go to another country , just to visit (forget emigrating), might have a different point of view with regard to freedom of movement.

What about the West over the Communist bloc ? Well, if you define the communist bloc widely enough to include China, the verdict might be closer to a draw than a clear cut victory. 

Of course, this post stretches the facts, but only to make a point. The scale of what happened in the Communist Bloc during the Cold War may have been beyond anything you see today. But then, although the Soviet Union collapsed, aspects of its ideology are thriving in many places around the world.Perhaps they lost the battle, but haven't yet been defeated in the war. 

Yes, they may never be a winner in the capitalism versus communism debate.  As indeed in the democracy versus totalitarian debate. Alas, what a pity, at least in the case of the former.