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RUSSIA and the Chilean model continued



Bill Ratliff replies to Cameron Sawyer: "My remarks were directed specifically at his statement that "many Russian intellectuals believe that Chile was pulled out of social and political turmoil (not to mention dictatorship) purely by its expanding economy". I repeat that those who believe that are seriously wrong, and I will add now that that may be one of the reasons their own reforms have not worked nearly so well. Indeed it may in large part answer the critical question Cameron Sawyer now asks, namely "why, instead of flaring up again, [did] Chile straighten out" while Russia (and many, many others) have not done so. As Cameron Sawyer notes, Russia underwent enormous economic change in the decades before Lenin took over, and yet it fell back into a system not too different from the Tsars at their worst. Indeed Lenin himself spoke of the possibility of a "restoration" of the old system after the revolution, and what he foresaw occurred with a vengeance. This gets to Cameron Sawyer's point that "something seems to have been wrong with society which wealth did not fix. " Yes. It most certainly was not Nicholas II or the defeat by Japan. Would to God it had been so simple. Then what was it? That is not an easy question, but it is one that Russians and the rest of us interested in such matters must confront. If anything like social justice and spreading the wealth (though creation of wealth not redistributing wealth) is desirable, and I have no doubt Cameron Sawyer and I agree that it is, then history suggests that some systems with deep historical roots work far better than others. While a country obviously and critically needs the right economic policies for the society, that economic system just won't happen if the political system is not there to support it, and the political system that supports it may be very difficult to create because of the roots and other matters. Indeed, a political system that supports serious economic reforms up to a considerable point may itself have to become more refined over time to continue supporting positive economic change, as the Chinese are likely to find out.

So why did Chile make it, though the current system is certainly not invulnerable? The economic reforms alone would not have done it for Chile either, indeed might well not have been possible in the first place, had it not been for the other critical factors, which I listed briefly at the end of my previous note. In a little more detail they included the following. A long democratic tradition, which to be sure was not always broadly representative and in the decades before 1973 had become so intolerant and internally disputatious that it self-destructed during the early 1970s. The military, with broad national support (at first), picked up the pieces and provided sufficient stability to allow major change, and that is where under the specific circumstances some degree of force was needed. And during the entire process of carrying out the economic reforms, which went up and down and up, the Chilean political system was also transformed from one that was internally self-destructive and bent increasingly on destroying the opposition to one that includes a "loyal" if not always happy opposition and a democracy what will remain effective unless it reverts to its former intolerance. Even when the economic reforms in some respects collapsed in the early 1980s, the political situation continued as before. This of course is the most controversial part of the Chilean experience because after the original tough crackdown the repression of many political rights continued, though not on the level of Cuba under Castro. (Of course, thirty years ago the economic reforms themselves were equally unacceptable by many of the world's so-considered "experts".) One may debate whether the repression was justified, whether it was excessive or too prolonged. But comparing Chile in 1973 to Chile today, or Chile to most countries in the "developing world," Chile can at least be seriously discussed as a "model" in some respects for other countries. Latin America certainly has no other positive "models" that can be taken seriously, notwithstanding poor Chavez in Venezuela who still thinks Cuba represents the future. Even Argentina, which seemed to be a "model" in the early and mid-1990s, has blown it. So Cameron Sawyer's important question can be broadened far beyond why did Chile reform so successfully when Russia didn't to why did Chile (or several Asian countries) reformed so relatively successfully while most other countries in the entire so-called "developing world" have been unable to do so?"

Ronald Hilton - 7/5/02


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