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Book Review June 26, 2003
Satter The Almost Just
By John Dolan Browse author Email
Page 3 of 3
When oligarch Alfred Kokh told a reporter that the $300,000 advance he'd received for a non-existent book was "generally accepted international practice," he was telling the truth. Satter says Kokh was "unusual for his frankness," but Gaidar and Chubais were equally shameless -- literally without shame -- in explaining what Western NeoCon economists had taught them. If there is a difference between them and their Western teachers, it's that the Russian pupils really did believe (at first, anyway) the lies their Western advisors only pretended to believe. So, when his decision to drop price control wipes out ordinary Russians' savings, Gaidar said ingenuously that "money in people's savings accounts was not real because it did not reflect the quantity of available goods" -- perfectly orthodox supply-and-demand free-market theory.

Gaidar's view of crime, denounced by Satter, is also perfectly standard NeoCon cant: "The reformers' worldview undercut any inclination to crack down on corruption, for they assumed abuses would eventually be corrected by the market itself." I don't see any heresy; this is exactly the sort of magic power attributed to "the market" every day by Bush's people. Satter continues, "Many [reformers] came to the conclusion that if there was no point in fighting the lawlessness, there was even less reason not to take advantage of it and to use their period in power -- which they feared would be brief -- to guarantee their own future and that of their children and grandchildren." Once again, I have to ask -- where's the heresy? It sounds like classic American ideology to me. Hasn't Satter ever heard of the Defense Department? This is all standard DoD contract-awarding policy.

Gaidar deserves his canonization by Satter's employers at the WSJ. Gaidar is a true crusader for the market. The heresy is all Satter's. Somewhere along the line, he started developing a capacity for empathy, and thinking of Russians as human beings, which ruined the triumph of the Market for him.

Since he can't blame the obvious culprit -- the Market and the ideology which invented it -- he squirms painfully to find a psychologically acceptable alternative. The results are painful, as when he tries to blame the Young Reformers' " darwinism, economic determinism, and...tolerant attitude toward crime" on "years of Marxist training." This directly contradicts Satter's claim that "[t]he reformers' social darwinism was, in many ways, a reaction against Soviet society's professed concern for the needy and helpless." In other words, their callousness was (a) Soviet ideology and (b) a reaction against Soviet ideology. This isn't a Chinese restaurant; you can't pick both (a) and (b) at the same time.

This sort of writhing only afflicts an intelligent, honorable writer like Satter when that ol' Cognitive Dissonance is hissing in his ear. It's as if he fears his shocking glimpse of Capitalism in Russia might infect him, make it impossible for him to believe any longer in the decency or legitimacy of the American kleptocracy.

After all, it's not the Russians who are truly gullible or weak. Satter's book makes that very clear. Again and again, ordinary Russians confront the officials who lie to them. Families of Kursk sailors insult the Navy brass; relatives of soldiers killed in Chechnya admit their kids died for nothing; residents of the Ryazan apartment building targeted by the FSB know very well that their "lives aren't worth a kopeck" to their government. Only blacks in America have as realistic a view of the country they live in. The rest of America still believes fervently in the lies told them by their domestic Gaidars.

And there's not one American journalist to tell them the truth -- not one who sees his own country as clearly as he sees Russia. Satter places Bible verses at the head of every chapter in Darkness at Dawn, but the one you really wish he'd read and tape to the top of his monitor is that bitter little verse about how easy it is to see the motes in somebody else's eye, and not the big free-market beam jammed into your own.

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