Friday, April 18, 2014

The Failure of Socialism in Africa

Unlike Asia or Europe, communism was never a popular movement in Africa. Only three states in Africa ever established fully Marxist-Leninist regimes based upon the Soviet model. These were Ethiopia, Angola, and Mozambique. Curiously enough despite the success of socialist states in Europe and Asia in breaking economic dependence upon capitalist states, those in Africa completely failed at this task. Ethiopia which went further than any other state in implementing Soviet style socialism found itself still largely dependent upon western foreign aid and the western purchase of its coffee in an international market that differed little from the colonial patterns established elsewhere in Africa. Angola's Marxist regime found itself dependent upon the capitalists running Chevron for its very survival. Despite the end of Portuguese rule Mozambique continued to rely upon the contract labor of miners sent to work in the mines of apartheid South Africa as one of its most important sources of revenue. The establishment of political regimes closely allied with the USSR in Ethiopia, Angola, and Mozambique did almost nothing to reduce their economic dependency upon capitalists in the US, Europe, and South Africa. Their basic trade patterns of exporting raw materials and labor to capitalist states remained. They were unable to industrialize, replace capitalist trade partners with socialist ones, or achieve any type of self sufficiency even within a larger socialist bloc. In this sense socialism was a much larger failure in Africa than it was in Europe, Asia, or Cuba where a number of states most notably the USSR did achieve these goals.

Ramen Gourmet

I just purchased a big box of ramen noodles along with a bottle of hot sauce and a bottle of Dijon style mustard vinaigrette salad dressing. I find the combination of these two condiments works really well on ramen noodles.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Soviet Flags

The USSR was supposedly designed as a union of national-territories that were "national in form and socialist in content." Although much of the official culture of non-Russian nationalities in the Soviet Union did in fact reflect the popular ethnic culture of these nationalities, other areas had been drained of all distinctive color and left a rather boring red. One surprising area where this was so was in the various national flags of the SSRs and ASSRs within the USSR. Here was an area where creative motifs of the constructions of socialist nations could have been given full reign while remaining completely symbolic. But, instead the flags of the various SSRs and ASSRs were universally drab red rectangles with gold trimming and almost no ethnic symbolism. In the upper right corner for instance is the flag of the Volga German ASSR. Other than the fact that the word ASSR der Wolgadeutschen is written on it there is nothing to distinguish it as specifically a Volga German flag. This would not have been hard to do and was something generally practiced with the various coats of arms of SSRs and ASSRs. The picture below the flag is a modified version of the Volga German ASSR coat of arms. The black which makes the coat of arms take on the German republican colors of black, red, and gold first raised in the revolutions of 1848 has been added. The actual coat of arms had white where the black is on this version. The wreath of wheat provides something distinctively Volga German to the design in addition to the sickle and hammer and the Soviet slogan "Workers of the World Unite" in both Russian and German. Why Soviet flags as opposed to coats of arms were so boring is something I really don't understand. After all many of the various state flags of the US such as California, Arizona, and Alaska are very distinctive.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Another Interesting Soviet Badge

This little flag pin is for members of the Central Executive Committee of the Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic of Volga Germans. In German the initials are ZVK ASSR d. W-D. The other set of letters are in Russian  and mean the same thing. In the upper right corner in red letters are the letters RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic) in Russian. The Volga German Republic only existed from 1924 to 1941 before being officially disbanded on 7 September 1941 in the wake of the mass deportation of its titular population to Siberia and Kazakhstan. It was unique in being the only ASSR established in the USSR for a diaspora group as opposed to a nationality indigenous to the territory of the USSR.

Volksdeutsche and the Nation-State

The break up of the Austro-Hungarian Empire after WWI left large German speaking national minorities in Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Yugoslavia. The treatment of these national minorities varied, but for the most part they were able to exercise their political and cultural rights within the framework of the newly independent states of Central Europe and the Balkans during the 1920s and 1930s. This is not to say that they did not have any grievances, some of them even legitimate, but their legal and political status was considerably better than a number of other minorities at the time including Blacks in the US, Jews in Poland, and ethnic Germans in the USSR. This last group being targeted disproportionately for repression both during the dekulakization campaign of 1930-1932 and the Great Terror of 1937-1938, especially during the "German Operation." The German national minorities in Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia cooperated politically and militarily with the Nazi occupation of these states to a considerable degree. Romania and Hungary were German allies, but the ethnic Germans here served in German rather than national military units. A comparatively large percentage of adult males from these communities were members of the NSDAP  and various German military formations such as the Waffen SS. The status of ethnic Germans in the former Austro-Hungarian territories changed radically at the end of WWII. Scapegoated for all of the crimes of Hitler during the war, the new post-war governments of these states as well as those of Poland and the USSR subjected almost all of the ethnic Germans under their control to a brutal collective punishment. Most of them were violently expelled from their ancestral homelands either westward into the territory that would later form West Germany and East Germany, and to a lesser extent Austria. A smaller number, comprised primarily of ethnic Germans living in areas of the USSR west of the Urals ended up in Kazakhstan and Siberia already in 1941-1942. In the decades after the end of the war a very large number of the ethnic Germans remaining in these territories have emigrated and settled in Germany. Only a small fraction of the ethnic German population that lived east of the Oder-Neisse line in 1939 still remain.

Unfortunately, the problem of defining rights as being coterminous with living in the nation-state corresponding with your ethno-national designation and having few if any minorities did not end with the expulsion of the ethnic Germans from Central East Europe. The idea still seems to dominate a lot of frankly primitive thinking on this planet.  Creating ethnically homogenized nation-states where everybody lives in his own nation-state or nation-state like formation such as the republics in the Russian Federation can only be accomplished three ways. These ways are partition, expulsion, and killing. Usually, like in East Central Europe at the end of WWII they are applied in some sort of combination in which partition leads to expulsion which in turn due to its violence entails some degree of killing.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

From Africa to Ukraine with love.

More on Ukraine

In so far as the Russian Empire and later the USSR were great world powers, possession of Ukraine was absolutely vital to their global status. Without the population and resources of Ukraine Moscow could not even afford to keep subsidizing the Central Asian republics yet alone clients in far a way places like Cuba, Vietnam, and Ethiopia. The USSR was a state that systematically transferred resources from the richer western republics including Ukraine as well as the even richer, but much smaller Baltic States to poorer republics in Central Asia. Not surprisingly just like in Yugoslavia it was the richer republics that wanted to leave the USSR and keep their own resources and the poorer ones that wanted to remain part of the union and continue to receive subsidies. Hence, the western republics that had a net loss of resources due to membership in the USSR were very keen to leave. The eastern ones with a net gain were very reluctant. Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were the first states to demand the restoration of their independence. Kazakhstan was dead last in declaring itself independent from the USSR, doing so after the formal dissolution of the union. If Russia is to once again become a major world power rather than merely a regional power then it needs to recover a significant portion of the resources in Ukraine. How much they are aiming for right now is unclear. But, it certainly extends beyond Crimea and includes some of Ukraine's eastern oblasts.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Recent Events in Ukraine

In addition to Crimea it looks like the Russians are intent on detaching Ukraine's eastern oblasts from rule by Kyiv. There has been a steady assault by armed men on regional government buildings in this region. At the same time there has been almost no military response by the Ukrainian government to these provocations. The Russian military successfully annexed Crimea with very little difficulty. It appears that it may be able to repeat this experience with some of Ukraine's eastern oblasts, most notably Donetsk. I don't know what the military capabilities of Ukraine are as far as being able to resist the Russian seizure of its territory. But, both Kyiv and outside powers so far have been rather passive in the face of a sustained campaign by Russia to significantly reduce the amount of territory controlled by the Ukrainian state. As it currently stands it looks very likely that Donetsk Oblast will be detached from Ukraine just as happened to Crimea.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

State vs. Nation

I am pretty much  firmly in the camp of  Walker Connor in noting that nation is not a synonym for state and that there are  few actual nation-states in the world.  Rather a nation by definition has an ethnic basis. A nation-state is a state that provides political self determination to a single dominant ethnic group. Not every independent political state is thus a nation-state. In fact the vast majority are not. Japan is a nation-state, Germany is a nation-state, France is a nation-state, but most states in Africa are multi-ethnic and do not correspond to a single dominant ethno-nation.  Hence they are not nation-states, but rather states with multiple nations living in them. The fact that people identify strongly with these multi-ethnic states does not make them nation-states. State patriotism and national identification are two very different things. Which is why people still say they are Asante, Ga, Ewe, etc. in addition to being Ghanaian. These smaller groups are the ones that correspond to the idea of nation in the sense of being German, French, or Japanese.  But, of course confusing statehood and nationality which Connor has rallied against for decades is nothing new. It has dominated a lot of  badly thought out argumentation for decades.  In the former USSR citizenship is and has been since the 1920s separate from natsionalnost. In the USSR everybody had a single Soviet citizenship which under the Soviet constitution was theoretically equal for everybody. However, in reality a host of rights and privileges were determined by line five which designated natsionalnost. Soviet was never an option for line five. One could be Russian, Ukrainian, Jewish, Uzbek, German, Tatar, Korean, Armenian, Karachai, Georgian or a member of any number of ethnically defined nationalities, but one could never say their natsionalnost was Soviet. Likewise the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is not now and has never been a nation. It like the USSR is a union of several nations. In this case it is specifically a union of the nations of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. There is no British nation-state. There is a British state and English, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish nations. Often when dealing with the political entities drawn on maps we are looking at states that do not correspond to ethno-nations and are hence not nation-states.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Tropical Food Post

Recently I have been eating a lot of plantains. In part because I gave up meat for Lent, so I need some extra calories somewhere, but also because they taste really good with jollof or waakye and eggs, salad, sauce, and pepper. At the current awful exchange rate you can get a carry out box of waakye, salad with cream, ten slices of fried plantain, a hard boiled egg, sauce and pepper for the equivalent of $1.50 (4 GHS). The picture to the right is red red which is beans, plantains, and palm oil. I don't eat that as nearly as often, but the waakye already has beans in it so the main difference is not eating a cup of palm oil. Sometimes though I do just go for a big order of kelewele. I quite like the spicy and sweet combination of the spiced plantains. I also like bissap for the same reason. The one great thing about Ghanaian food is that it is always spicy.