1975-1990, the USSR was arguably the least bad of the three imperial superpowers

In this thread in Elections, on whether Bernie Sanders’ “honeymoon” in the USSR and visits to Nicaragua and Cuba make him unelectable as president, foolsguinea makes a rather bold assertion:

Kinda flies in the face of conventional wisdom, but is it right?

I think it’s a stretch to call China in that period an “imperial superpower”.

Well, China was playing the same intervention-abroad game as the other two, in its own way and on a lesser scale.

Hard to know where to start with a thread like this.

Here’s one comment: It’s incredibly ironic to complain about US manufacturing shifting to China as an example of the US being imperialist. Moves like that have helped to radically reduce global poverty, including Chinese poverty, over the last four decades. It might be bad policy for a factory worker in Ohio, but it’s great policy for the world as a whole. To the extent it has been facilitated by US elites (which is wildly overstated), they should get Nobel prizes for the millions upon millions they have brought out of grinding poverty.

During that period, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to prop up a pro-Soviet government that had taken power in a coup. Is openly fighting against self-determination not worse than indirectly backing tyrants?

Well, that glosses over the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which resulted of something on the order of a million civilian deaths and millions of more indefinite refugees. Of course, the United States bears significant responsibility for instigating the overthrow of the previously Soviet-backed government and providing arms and aid to groups some of which would eventually become the Taliban government.

Note during this period the Soviets were still repressing all internal dissent; while not the hard labor and arbitrary executions which were common during the Stalin post-war era (as detailed in The Gulag Archipelago) there was still significant political and social repression. For instance, Andrei Sakharov, noted physicist and political activist, was denied permission to travel outside the Soviet Union to receive the 1973 Nobel Peace Prize and was arrested in 1980 after leading protests on the invasion of Afghanistan. He, and later his wife, were held incommunicado in the closed city of Gorky until the end of 1986 despite numerous protests and with no legal or administrative redress. The repression in the Baltics continued apace, as did the draining of resources in various Warsaw Pact nations to support the flagging Soviet economy, which ultimately led to the Solidarity movement in Poland.

“Least bad” is a fairly arbitrary and subjective criteria. The US was arguably least repressive internally but sponsored and supported various dictatorial regimes in Latin and South America, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia in that period. The Soviets supplied aid and weapons to regimes in the Middle East and while reducing the extent of the GULAG system in the post-destalinization era continued to imprison millions with only the flimsiest presence of legality. China, still recovering from the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution, essentially used slave labor to try to rebuild its economy while extending its foreign presence supporting its own bevy of dictators, largely in Africa, and used that influence to take the Republic of China’s seat in the United Nations and gain a permanent seat on the Security Council (which arguably granted it superpower status even if it did not compare economically or militarily with NATO or the Warsaw Pact).

I wouldn’t want to have lived in either the PRC or the USSR during that period, nor sought to be within their spheres of influence. As undemocratic as foreign policy of the US may have been during that period (especially under the Reagan Administration which doesn’t seem to have met a dictator it couldn’t come to terms with as long as they were against dirty Commies), I think in terms of quantitative harm the US is clearly favorable in comparison to the Soviet Union and the Peoples Republic of China.


Supplanting the government of Mohammed Daoud Khan, who had taken power in a coup. It’s kind of a wash on that point. Hard to know what faction was actually more popular or could have won a free election. I recall reading that when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan some Afghans were heard to express nostalgia for the Soviets, who at least built some schools and roads and things while they were there.

The USSR invaded Afghanistan in 1979 starting a ten year war which killed about 75,000 afghans.
They supported the Nicaraguan communists who conducted 8,000 political executions, took 20,000 political prisoners, and the force relocation of the Miskito Indians.
The supported the Communist revolutionaries in Ethiopia, who took over the government in 1977 and implemented the red terror of Ethiopia which killed a minimum of 30,000 people. The communist government of Mengistu helped create the famine of 1983-1985 which killed over a million people.
They supported the rebels in Costa Rica, Guatemala. They supported the Angola government during the civil war there.
They also supported the communist government in Cuba, and all the Warsaw Pact countries. None of those countries had freedom of speech, religion, movement, or any meaningful political freedoms. The USSR’s military was the threat keeping tens of millions of people impoverished and enslaved all over the world. There is no comparison the USSR during that time was pure evil and Sanders was either blind or evil himself to support that system.
The US did not work with Bin Laden in Afghanistan that is flat wrong.
As has already been pointed out, outsourcing labor to China led to the greatest relief of poverty in the history of the world so that should be a plus for the US.


Have you read anything in the last 15 years about Afghan attitudes towards the US and its allies, and the reconstruction that has occurred since 2001?

Hard to know which faction was more popular? The reason the Soviets had to invade was because their Marxist puppet government was facing widespread rebellion due to their purges and general oppressive totalitarian behavior.

I can’t believe the incredible blind spot some people on the left have for Soviet atrocities (and those committed by other Communist governments). The U.S. is the epitome of evil for Guantanamo Bay, but the Soviet’s extensive Gulag system was just fine, or at least understandable. A U.S. military action is the height of imperialistic evil, but the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is a fond memory of bringing enlightenment to the downtrodden people suffering under the boot of freedom.

From that right-wing source, the Encyclopaedia Britannica:

Ah, good times. Fond memories, really.

By the way, those ‘various tactics’ the Soviets used to try to stop the insurgency included the use of ‘scorched earth’ policies, wherein entire villages would be razed to the ground intentionally as punishment if an insurgent was discovered among them. Carpet-bombing large areas was the order of the day, as opposed to the precision strikes the U.S. used to keep down civilian casualties.

Note that the article says that the Soviets bombed and depopulated large areas to erode civilian support. These weren’t attacks against the insurgents themselves, but essentially large scale terror waged against the civilian population to either stop them from supporting the mujahadeen or to force them to flee the country and remove the economic and logistical base of the resistance. It worked partway: it didn’t do anything to stop the resistance, but it did succeed in creating the largest humanitarian crisis in the world at the time as millions of Afghans fled Soviet bombs and other reprisals.

The exact same tactics are being used today in Syria.

But hey, they built a school or two in some Potemkin villages. So there’s that.

And you are glossing over the worst of American foreign intervention by pointing at Guantanamo Bay as if it’s the proof all the Lefties point to. During the period described, the US supported dictatorships and insurgencies that had considerable blood on their hands.

Puddleglum putting Nicaragua in the Soviet=bad column with no caveats is particularly egrigous.

And the imposition of martial law in Poland at the urging of the USSR.

Now, now, let’s be fair - the Soviets gave toys to Afghani children too!


That it was a coup matters, because it gives the Soviets zero excuses for invading other than pure imperialism; upholding democracy or redressing some injustice aren’t on the table when you’re backing the coup.

The Soviet Union isn’t entitled to choose who the leaders of Afghanistan are. And again, I hold open warfare to be worse than indirect support, funding, etc.

You shouldn’t. Indirectly supporting open warfare or oppression doesn’t mean a big difference on the ground.

All that said, I have trouble saying the USSR was the best of the 3.

In all fairness, the US has always been the aggressor in the Cold War. (I have no knowledge of Bernie cozying with the regime in the USSR however). I was born in 1955 and actually remember the so-called “Cuban Missile Crisis” which scared the hell out of me and everyone else. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that I learned what happened without the American propaganda spin on it. To get to it quickly, the crisis was resolved by the Americans agreeing to remove missiles from Turkey. Duh! We had rolled nukes into Turkey and pointed them at the Kremlin for 10 years before the Soviets put their foot down and said what’s good for the goose, is good for the gander and thus tried to put nuclear missiles in Cuba. That was 10 years of living in fear of nuclear threat. Why?

The answer is that f WWII, Roosevelt and Churchill had rightly acknowledge the Soviet Union as the victors in the European theater of WWII because they suffered so far worse losses than America or Britain. Roosevelt also pledge reconstruction aid to the Russians who were still our allies. When Roosevelt suddenly died, Harry Truman, who was a hawkish concession to the industrial right who replaced Roosevelt’s previous VP, a very dovish aand idealistic Henry Wallace, Truman not only dropped both atomic bombs on Japan to end the war but he arranged it so that the Soviets would see this and realize that the US had the big stick and the ruthless new willingness to renege on Roosevelt’s promise of aid. So, the US not only screwed the Soviets on reconstruction aid, the emerging right-wing dominated military industrial complex made the most of rancor that came from US refusal to honor Roosevelt’s promises. I don’t know exactly why the US felt it necessary to point nukes from a relatively short range at Moscow, but the US did just that.Can you blame the Soviets for feeling victimized and wanting to equal the score?

Then look what Reagan did to supposedly stop communism in South America. In the hodge-podge of the “Iran-Contra” affair, it is a fact that the CIA allowed drug lords access to American markets where the crack epidemic started to gain advantage and access in South America to stop groups like the Sandinistas and other “red” led groups. See the movie “Kill the Messenger” which shows the true story of this horrible dark period in America where millions of us Americans were claimed by the cocaine and crack epidemics over republican and right-wing paranoid policies that were unnecessary and illegal and IMMORAL. This is to say nothing of the Vietnam war which was a fraud which claimed the lives of millions where the US used chemical weapons (Agent Orange) because bombing didn’t work on jungles. This alleged “defoliant” caused the intestinal tracts of children not to be able to uptake nutrients for their food. They died from malnutrition by the bushel basket.

I don’t have a list of things the Soviets or Chinese but I know that we are wrong to see ourselves as morally superior. We have been industrial murderers and have thrown the lives of our own youth into the pyres.

I’m not saying the U.S. is perfect or always on the side of the angels. Just that the left around the world during the cold war tended to reflexively oppose the U.S. and ascribe the worst motives to it, while completely ignoring the atrocities and actual imperialism of the Soviet Union. I was there. I was in college during the time, and the lefties on campus had sympathetic marches for Cuba, the Sandinistas, and any other left-wing government they could find, while screaming and yelling at the U.S. as an imperialist monster. Idiots like Bernie Sanders were honeymooning in the Soviet Union while dissidents were being held in jails or in internal exile and people were still being shot for trying to escape over the Berlin Wall.

I remember their response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The defences were many: The Soviets were rightfully paranoid of being attacked on their borders, and needed a buffer state. The new ‘Democratic’ Marxist government was being undermined by the CIA, and the Soviets were just responding to a desperate plea for help by a legitimate government under siege by the evil Americans. A delegation of useful idiots from some western peace group would be trotted through a Potemkin village where they could take photos of Soviets building schools or playing with children, and they would rush home and credulously report that Afghanistan was now a paradise.

And even today, some people on the left think that the Afghans have ‘fond memories’ of the Soviets and wish they could go back to the glory days of Soviet rule.

It was certainly a complex issue, but both sides were and are guilty of taking extreme positions on both sides. The Sandinistas were guilty of plenty of atrocities, and so was the opposition. I preferred the opposition for the simple reason that I preferred to not see another Soviet puppet state in the region, and because I believed and still believe that Marxism/Communism is incredibly destructive no matter where it’s tried. Look at what’s happened to Venezuela since Chavez took power. It should be one of the wealthiest countries in the region, and it can barely feed its own people now.

“Support”? Sanders was the mayor of city whose sister city happened to be a Russian city. His “honeymoon” there was simply a scheduled official visit.

It can also be misleading to just focus on the period from 1975 to 1990. Arguably the reason the Soviet “empire” was quiet during that period was because the Soviets had been more thorough in crushing all dissent prior to 1975.

Just so. It was a war of choice on the US’ part. If the Truman Admin had dismissed both “rollback” and “containment,” the USSR might still exist and might still dominate Eastern Europe, but there would not be a Communist Western Europe, let alone a Communist America.