Well, after finishing off my post regarding a counter-factual scenario in which the Soviet Union didn’t collapse
my creative juices continued to fire, once again thanks to the Alternate History Hub
. Once again it is a scenario that stems out of the Cold War, however, instead of seeing how the Soviet Union could have avoided its collapse, we will instead be posing the question as to how could have the tables have been turned and the United States end up on the losing side.
The difficult thing with the Cold War is that it was not a war that one side could necessarily win or lose. American didn’t win the Cold War in the traditional sense of the word – they won by default, namely because the Soviet Union collapsed. While there could have been a scenario in which the proverbial shoe was on the other foot, and it was the United States that collapsed, it will not necessarily be a scenario that I would explore here. In a way, the only possible scenario would have been the disintegration of the American Federal government.
However, that isn’t a scenario that I wish to explore here, but rather I wish to consider the scenario that the Alternate History Hub puts to us and try to tease it out some more. Namely, the questions that I will be asking are as follows:
- What happened to cause the United States to ‘lose’ the Cold War and;
- What would the United States look like after this collapse?
Anyway, before I go any further, here is the video (it is in two parts) that has been produced by the Alternate History Hub:
Okay, assuming that you have just watched the video, there are some things that you have probably noticed:
- Like the USSR during the 80s, the United States was facing similar problems in the 70s, namely, they had just lost an unpopular war, they were facing social unrest, and the economy had begun to stagnate;
- The economic problems compounded the social unrest which resulted in a revolution.
What we need to consider though is that in our timeline the economic problems that were dogging the country, as well as foreign policy problems, did result in a revolution within the United States, though this was not necessarily a revolution in the style of the French. America is a functioning democracy which means that significant changes can still come about through the democratic process, as happened in our timeline. Basically, in 1980, the incumbent president, Jimmy Carter, lost to the Republican Party, led by President-elect Ronald Regan, who then began to impose a number of economic reforms that were based on the Chicago School of Economics
. Up until that time most government economic policy had been based about the Keynesian model
, however when the problem of stagflation arose during the 70s it was believed that this model had run its course and that another model was required to take its place – the Chicago School model. As such the American political system took a sharp swing to the right.
The Problem With the Scenario
I was going to move on to the scenario where I envisaged the shift of the United States from a capitalist economy to a socialist economy and originally was going to start with the suggestion that Watergate never happened and Nixon never resigned, which resulted in a continued Republican administration. However the more I think about it the more difficulty I have in envisaging such a drastic shift in the American political system. The main reason for that is that the foundations that would lead to such a revolution simply did not exist. In fact, as far as I could see, there simply wasn’t the basis for the American system to collapse, and for it to be there we would need to go a lot further back. The reasons that I give for this not being able to happen are as follows:
- McCarthyism had pretty much rooted out any actual, or perceived, socialist agitators.
- To the average American socialism was, and still remains, a very dirty word. It would have required a huge change in the thought of the American populace to accept any form of socialism at this time.
- The mass movements that could have resulted in a socialist shift simply didn’t exist. Sure, there were the anti-war and free love movements of the 60s and 70s, however, while they were more interested in changing social thoughts and attitudes, they weren’t focused on economic change.
- The mass movements of the 60s and 70s were social as opposed to economic. This resulted in the Christian right slowly taking control of the Republican party, to the point that when they won in the 1980s they were able to begin their agenda of shifting America to the economic right.
- There wasn’t a huge income disparity. In fact Americans, despite the economic malaise of the 70s, were pretty well off – there was no need for them to shift to a new economic model.
As such, what I will do is write this in reference to my other blog post, the one where I theorised on what would have happened if the USSR didn’t collapse, but instead, I will see how things may have turned out in the United States.
What is Socialism?
For a while, I considered myself a socialist, if only in reaction against the extreme right-wing ideology that the Anglo-American world seemed to be heading at the turn of the 21st century. I remember spending time with friends from university criticising the government and talking about how they were cutting back on spending on health, education, and infrastructure spending while also cutting taxes for the wealthy. However, it wasn’t until I spent some time with a group of Socialists that I realised how extreme their ideology actually was. The thing with the people that I used to spend time with, and my ideologies, wasn’t to actually overthrow the current system, but rather to wind back on the free-market reforms that were destroying the middle class. In my mind, good wages for the working class is what makes an economy works, not the extreme revolutionary beliefs of the true socialists.
So, what is socialism? Well, it is based on the teachings of Karl Marx. The thing with me is that I am more of a Bernie Saunders, New Deal Socialist as opposed to a hard-left economic socialist that seeks to destroy the capitalist system. In fact, one of the things that put me off the socialists was their constant references to ‘the bosses’, something that is incredibly cliched, and reeks of Marxism and Leninism – a philosophy that while it works well on paper, simply doesn’t work in reality, as the failed Russian experiment proved.
It is hard to actually put socialism into a single definition, but it works on the idea of the state controlling the means of production, and that the workplace operates on a democratic system as opposed to the aristocratic, hierarchical system that it currently does. Mind you, the capitalists claim that their system works on a system of merit, namely if you are a good worker who knows what you are doing, then you will succeed. However, the reality is that our system doesn’t actually work on merit, it works on cronyism and nepotism. Sure, you might be a good worker, but unless you know how to play the game – that is to network and make the right type of friends – then you are basically going nowhere. Sure, cream rises to the top, but shit also floats.
In fact, this image demonstrates what the modern corporate workplace looks like:
So, even while our society is democratic politically, in many areas it is actually very authoritarian: the military and the workplace are classic examples. What socialism proposes is that the workplace operates on a democratic process, however that causes other problems, namely because while promotions may not occur along nepotistic lines, you then get people being elected based upon the popular vote, and just because they win a popular vote doesn’t necessarily mean that they are any good at managing.
The other thing is that the profits don’t go to the shareholders (which tend to be the capitalists, banks, and super funds) but to the workers. Mind you, the idea of the employee share schemes are supposed to operate on those lines, but once again you find that most average employees aren’t able to participate in those schemes, and in a lot of companies only management either have access to it, or are able to afford it. There are companies out there that do pass their profits down to the employees, but they tend to be few and far between.
The other thing is that essential services tend to be controlled by the government: electricity, gas, healthcare, education. They also have a greater control of the means of production, such as with factories and the extractive industries. If there is free enterprise it tends to be in the hands of the small businessman, such as the corner shop. In fact, the telecommunications industry would also be controlled by the government. This was the case in Australia when I was growing up – in fact, it was the Liberal (conservative) governments that actually privatised these industries – however through the 80s and 90s, with the push for a free-market ideology, most of these essential services were privatised, and the public health insurance was cut back to allow private insurers to enter the market.
Could America Have Become Socialist?
Well, we have seen it shift in that direction one time in the past – during the Great Depression. The stock market had collapsed, and the country had been plunged into a period of great economic uncertainly. Unemployment was at an all-time high, industry had ground to a halt, shops have gone out of business all over the country, and people were drifting from town to town looking for whatever work they could find. Mind you, the capitalists had their own ideas on how they could solve this problem, but in 1932 their worse fear happened – Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president. Actually, his reforms weren’t all that bad, but in their minds, it was, to the point that the industrialists had plans to overthrow him and install a dictator as president. Mind you, the guy whom that had tapped on the shoulder to be that dictator, General Smedley Butler, didn’t want a bar of it, and blew the whole plan open.
So, we have an example of how the United States could have shifted to the left, so was there another point in time that such an event could have happened? Well, as I have suggested, the 1970s didn’t produce an economy that bad, and the stock market crash of 1989 didn’t result in the depression, nor did the Asian Financial Crisis or the Dot Com crash. In fact, the one event that it could have happened was 2008, and the global financial crisis which resulted in the election of Barak Obama, on a platform of ‘Hope you can Believe in’. Mind you, the aftermath of the GFC is still being played out, but the interesting thing is that as the period of free-market ideology progresses more and more people are being left out of the American dream as manufacturing jobs are shipped overseas, thanks to the myriad of Free Trade Agreements coming into effect.
However, 2008 could have turned out quite differently if Obama had taken a much more hardline stance. The thing was that the government had taken control of the car industry, and the banks were begging for more and more money to keep themselves afloat. The thing is that the banks, and in fact the entire capitalist system, were on their knees, and the only reason that they survived, and things have basically continued as they have been doing so for the past forty years, is because they were bailed out. However, if the American government had stuck to their free-market ideologies, and refused to bail them out, then not only would they have a couple of trillion dollars to spend on social programs, but it would have provided a different playing field by effectively wiping out the capitalist class.
The 2008 Revolution
The thing with 2008 is that the Democrats, in the 2006 congressional election, had taken control of both houses of Congress. This gave them control of the legislative process, and turned George Bush into a lame-duck president. However, they still voted in favour of bailing out the banks, which meant that the capitalist system continued as if nothing had happened, except that the life savings of millions of Americans were wiped out, and many of them were not only left homeless, but also without a job – and any job that they picked up afterwards was on substantially lower pay. However let us consider this – the Democrats, who had taken control of Congress, decided to reject the proposal, and let the banks go, well, bankrupt.
Well, that wasn’t necessarily going to happen, but instead of bailing them out and letting them go on their merry way, they instead took control of the banks, and then proceeded to prosecute the instigators of the financial crisis. However, what they didn’t do was cancel the debts of the executives – in fact, upon taking control of the banks they pretty much sacked all of the executives, and then filled them with their own supporters, particularly people who held more left-wing views. With many of the executives literally having been wiped out they were unable to afford the high priced army of lawyers to defend against the prosecutions. Instead many of them ended up finding themselves not only having to face gaol time, but also huge fines.
Along with this, comes the investigation into the Iraq War fiasco that had begun when the democrats took control of congress. By 2010 it had come to light that the war was indeed prosecuted on a lie, and the recommendations were that charges should be filed against the instigators – not just the administration at the time, but the corporations that were profited from the fiasco, which includes, but is not limited to, Halliburton. Having already taken control of the banks and the automotive industry, they then filed suits against some of the largest military-industrial corporations in the United States, the cases would still be going on to this time of writing.
Mind you, this scenario doesn’t take into account the rise of the Tea Party, which came about through the huge government debt that arose through the bailout of the banks. However, along with the prosecution of the industrialists, the media would have also been dragged into the mix. The problem with the media is that they control the flow of information. However, Obama solved this simply by using the capitalist system to take control of the media. The 2008 financial crisis resulted in a wholesale collapse of the financial system, and by not bailing out the banks meant that the stocks collapsed even further, which resulted in the government being able to take control of the corporations simply by buying up the stocks – in the media companies such as Fox News, CNN et al. By taking control of the media they are able to take control of the flow of information, giving them greater control over what people would see, hear, and believe.
Losing the Cold War
However, this doesn’t answer the question of what would have happened if the United States lost the cold war. Well, my point is that no matter how I look at it I don’t think it could have happened. The only possible scenario is that the Soviet Union doesn’t collapse, which means that the cold war drags on into the 90s and the 21st century. This, no doubt, would put further pressure on the United States, however with a strong enemy it is unlikely that the United States would have gone of war with Iraq in 1991, and the September 11th terrorist attacks would never have happened. However, it is still quite possible that the GFC would have happened, however that could well have dragged Russia into the crash if Russia had reformed economically as I had suggested in my previous post.
However losing the cold war would have been highly unlikely – the seeds of such a collapse simply did not exist, and the only time when American capitalism would have been replaced with a different system was in 2008, and by that time he Soviet Union had been relegated to the pages of history.