A thought experiment: suppose that two million people had died in Venezuela as a direct consequence of reforms enforced by Hugo ChÃ¡vez. What reactions would we expect? Well, since established western politicians and journalists already considered ChÃ¡vez a thug and a dictator despite that he accomplished the opposite, prolonging the lives of the poor, itâ€™s almost a truism that he would have been crushed, one way or the other.
The exact equivalent mega-deaths occurred in Russia, directly caused by the capitalist revolution Â under Boris Yeltsin in the 1990s. Yeltsin was generously supported and guided by a handful of western â€œexpertsâ€ who believed so deeply in the blessings of capitalism and free markets that they totally ignored the horrendous consequences of their recommendations. It would be too mean to suggest that they didn’t realize what the outcome would be when they advocated the crushing of half the Russian industrial capacity. That would be to imply that they were both ignorant and stupid, and they weren’t. But they probably just didn’t care.
The pattern and causes behind the unparalleled mass deaths have been studied by two American specialists in health and medicine, David Stuckler and Sanjay Basu, publishing their findings in The Body Economics: Why Austerity Kills (Basic Books 2013). The chapter in which they investigate the effects of the capitalist revolution in Russia opens with the following sentence:
â€œIn the beginning of the 1990s, ten million Russian men vanished.â€
Then they support this statement with forceful demographic data from the period in question. During just five years in the beginning of the decade life expectancy for men in Russia fell from 64 to 57 years, an unprecedented drop for an industrial country in peacetime. The deaths affected primarily younger men in productive ages. But what killed them?
There seem to be some resemblance with the disappearing of millions of Indians in North America. The Russian men were hit by deceases seldom seen among young people, such as infarction. Also supposedly eradicated diseases like tuberculosis reappeared, even in new resistant forms, as an effect of worsening living conditions. But the main causes behind the deaths can be classified as self destruction.
The rate of alcohol poisoning, suicide, murder and deaths from accidents shot way up. The reasons behind this fatal development were obvious when half the Russian industrial structure was crushed almost overnight. Peopleâ€™s possibilities to support themselves were destroyed, together with social safety nets and prospects for the future. Russian corporations were indeed ineffective, but they played an important role for welfare in a broad sense (in a way that western advisors totally neglected).
Stuckler & Basu demonstrates convincingly that Holocaust in the deteriorating eastern block after 1989 is tightly connected with the manner in which the privatization processes were enforced. In countries where Jeffrey Sachs, Anders Aslund and other extremists had their way when they strongly advocated a shock therapy with swift transition to private capitalism, death crisis became worst. Apart from Russia also countries like Kazakhstan, Latvia and Estonia suffered increasing death rates.
In Poland, Belarus, Slovenia and the Czech Republic on the other hand, where the transition process had taken place in a controlled manner, no increase in mortality followed. The Swedish â€œexpertâ€ Anders Aslund (seemingly lacking empathy) consequently and patronizingly called Belarus â€œa mini Sovietâ€ for resisting shock therapy methods.
What is most disturbing for us westerners in our safe societies should be the complete silence that our media and all others have submerged this virtual genocide in. It must be completely unprecedented that ten million fairly young people just vanish from an industrial society like they did in Russia, moreover without any obvious reaction abroad. History will eventually rectify this and judge us properly; just as we Europeans finally have to accept responsibility for the Indian genocide on the American continent (and correct our schoolbooks accordingly).
Our ignorance on the mass deaths in Russia has contributed to our misunderstanding of that countryâ€™s internal politics. The man who put an end to the human catastrophe was Vladimir Putin. Judged by our mass media it seems inconceivable how this man can be reelected time and again, but the Russians of course know what happened to their country, something our â€œpropaganda agenciesâ€ effectively have kept us from recognizing.
One power factor in the capitalist decomposition of Russia was the oligarchs, who – with implicit support of the western world – shamelessly robbed their fellow countrymen of anything of value (and often disappeared with the loot abroad). It took harsh methods to stop the looting and to reclaim some of the peopleâ€™s property. It took a former KGB man, Putin. His intervention also stopped the death epidemic.
Judging from the mainstream view in the west we had rather seen the oligarchs continue their robbing, leaving the country in total wreck and ruin and the death toll still rising. Thatâ€™s us, the moral and political role models for the whole world!