Russia is blamed every time Americans stub their toe but, all things considered, Americans should thank God for the Russians. Without the Red menace to prod them US elites would never have allowed any domestic policy of social merit to be enacted. The 1930s New Deal under Roosevelt was a wise compromise that a sane segment of plutocrats realized was required to salvage a miserably failed economy. Whether a revolutionary upsurge was likely or not, tycoons were worried and that is what mattered (though first a cabal plotted to overthrow Roosevelt). The average American&’s living standards thereafter improved, though racial minorities lagged behind.
Americans were indeed grateful at the time to the valiant Russians, whatever they thought of Stalin, for bearing the brunt of the ferocious fight against the Axis during the Second World War. The Soviet Union inflicted 85 per cent of Nazi casualties while itself suffering ghastly losses. Soviet entry into the war against Japan, and not the atomic bombs, assured the end of the war. Stephen Spielberg&’s iconic Private Ryan certainly is due all his honors but so is Private Ivan. Americans were eager enough to ship supplies to Russia to assist Soviet forces to crush the mighty Wehrmacht.
The rise of a modest welfare state in the postwar years was largely due to an acute political need to offset the allure of social protection schemes offered, if not always delivered, under the Soviets. The clearest proof is that the instant the Soviet Union folded, Western elites relinquished tolerance for the welfare state (except subsidies for the rich), reverted to instinctive free market blather and mounted the neoliberal onslaught that culminated in the 2008 crash and bailout from which the public, unlike the stock market, has never recovered.
In the 1950s under Republican President Eisenhower the American interstate road system — the largest public works project in US history — was approved under the aegis of meeting national defence needs. The military needed good roads to zip around. Conservative politicians are conditioned to flip open the pocketbook where anti-communist crusades, arms, and profit for cronies coincide. Military Keynesianism through the Cold War continued to pump vast funds into the corporate economy and boosted profits as well as jobs in the name of protecting Yanks from the glowering Soviet beast.
The civil rights achievements in the 1960s were won because of the brave blacks and their supporters but also because US politicians were severely embarrassed by the undisguisable shortfall between national rhetoric about liberty for all and the reality of Jim Crow racial barriers. Ivy League educated diplomats were unlikely to have been tormented by moral qualms about racial inequalities but they acutely appreciated the US was losing the propaganda war internationally because of odious racist legacies on home soil. Something had to be done or else the russkis would capitalize on it. The establishment duly did the right thing.
Russian power prevented the US from going completely bonkers, and even going nuclear, in its many interventions abroad. A superpower that fails to be counter-balanced by others is bound to ride off the rails through blind arrogance. Any realist scholar will advise that post-war US and Russia were hardly destined to cuddle up simply for reasons of pure geopolitical rivalry. US foreign policy leaders in both parties loathe anyone they cannot intimidate abroad and so Putin, even if he were an angel (which he is not), would be cast as the Satan incarnate.
The Russians devils are a boon to jingoists who yell about Russia anytime they themselves falter or get nabbed in unsavory acts, such as in Clinton&’s accusation, without proof, that Russia leaked Democratic Party committee emails revealing distinct favouritism for her campaign over Bernie Sanders. The Russian television channel RT, as second-most watched foreign news service in the US, is a thorn in the side of mainstream media, while actually helping to fulfill the democratic ideal of a ‘marketplace of ideas’. One might not trust RT&’s reporting on Russian affairs any more than BBC on British politics or NBC (owned by a defence contractor) on American politics, but RT commendably covers the dissident side of the spectrum on Western shortcomings. RT, like a good capitalist, spotted a gaping hole in the news market and decided to fill it.
No one seems bothered if Republicans or Democrats fiddle with election machinery but when wicked mastermind Putin is accused, then the klaxons are sounded. Activists long have demonstrated that electronic voting machines can be hacked in minutes by any computer wiz kid. If Americans in future are spared another unappealing choice between an egomaniacal billionaire like Trump and a corporate handmaiden like Hillary, it will be because Russophobia spurred the junking of these dodgy voting machines.
The US Secretary of the Air Force last week solemnly declared Russia an “existential threat.” Yet if there were no Russian threat, Americans would manufacture one. And, long before 9/11 they did so in the form of jihadis whom they armed against Russians in Afghanistan, and who afterwards turned against the US with an all-embracing peril called terrorism, which bolstered the power of the American establishment to do what it wants. So if, invoking the famous Monty Python sketch about the ancient Romans, Americans ever have to ask, “What have the Russians ever done for us?” then they haven’t been paying attention.
The writers are authors of No Clean Hands and of Parables of Permanent War.