[Marxism] Two views of contemporary Russia

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Sep 4 11:40:52 MDT 2014

Putin’s domestic vision also conflicts with US policy, which is 
dominated by neoliberal, trickle-down, austerity-crazed, deficit hawkery 
that transfers the nations wealth to the 1 percent plutocrats at the top 
of the economic foodchain. The Russian president has made great strides 
in reducing poverty, eliminating illiteracy, improving healthcare, and 
raising the standard of living for millions of working people.

Mike Whitney, 


In fact, if we zoom out from the early 1990s, where Parsons has located 
the Russian “mortality crisis,” we will see something astounding: it is 
not a crisis—unless, of course, a crisis can last decades. “While the 
end of the USSR marked one [of] the most momentous political changes of 
the twentieth century, that transition has been attended by a gruesome 
continuity in adverse health trends for the Russian population,” writes 
Nicholas Eberstadt in Russia’s Peacetime Demographic Crisis: Dimensions, 
Causes, Implications, an exhaustive study published by the National 
Bureau of Asian Research in 2010. Eberstadt is an economist who has been 
writing about Soviet and Russian demographics for many years. In this 
book-length study, he has painted a picture as grim as it is 
mystifying—in part because he is reluctant to offer an explanation for 
which he lacks hard data.

Eberstadt is interested in the larger phenomenon of depopulation, 
including falling birth rates as well as rising death rates. He observes 
that this is not the first such trend in recent Russian history. There 
was the decline of 1917–1923—the years of the revolution and the Russian 
Civil War when, Eberstadt writes, “depopulation was attributable to the 
collapse of birth rates, the upsurge in death rates, and the exodus of 
émigrés that resulted from these upheavals.” There was 1933–1934, when 
the Soviet population fell by nearly two million as a result of 
murderous forced collectivization and a man-made famine that decimated 
rural Ukraine and, to a lesser extent, Russia. Then, from 1941 to 1946, 
the Soviet Union lost an estimated 27 million people in the war and 
suffered a two-thirds drop in birth rate. But the two-and-a-half decades 
since the collapse of the Soviet Union are the longest period of 
depopulation, and also the first to occur, on such a scale, in 
peacetime, anywhere in the world. “There is no obvious external 
application of state force to relieve, no obvious fateful and unnatural 
misfortune to weather, in the hopes of reversing this particular 
population decline,” writes Eberstadt. “Consequently, it is impossible 
to predict when (or even whether) Russia’s present, ongoing depopulation 
will finally come to an end.”

Russia has long had a low birth rate. The Soviet government fought to 
increase it by introducing a three-year maternity leave and other 
inducements, but for much of the postwar period it hovered below 
replacement rates. An exception was the Gorbachev era, when fertility 
reached 2.2. After 1989, however, it fell and still has not recovered: 
despite financial inducements introduced by the Putin government, the 
Russian fertility rate stands at 1.61, one of the lowest in the world 
(the US fertility rate estimate for 2014 is 2.01, which is also below 
replacement but still much higher than Russia’s).

And then there is the dying. In a rare moment of what may pass for 
levity Eberstadt allows himself the following chapter subtitle: 
“Pioneering New and Modern Pathways to Poor Health and Premature Death.” 
Russians did not start dying early and often after the collapse of the 
Soviet Union. “To the contrary,” writes Eberstadt, what is happening now 
is “merely the latest culmination of ominous trends that have been 
darkly evident on Russian soil for almost half a century.” With the 
exception of two brief periods—when Soviet Russia was ruled by 
Khrushchev and again when it was run by Gorbachev—death rates have been 
inexorably rising. This continued to be true even during the period of 
unprecedented economic growth between 1999 and 2008. In this study, 
published in 2010, Eberstadt accurately predicts that in the coming 
years the depopulation trend may be moderated but argues that it will 
not be reversed; in 2013 Russia’s birthrate was still lower and its 
death rate still higher than they had been in 1991. And 1991 had not 
been a good year.

Contrary to Parsons’s argument, moreover, Eberstadt shows that the 
current trend is not largely a problem of middle-aged Russians. While 
the graphs seem to indicate this, he notes, if one takes into account 
the fact that mortality rates normally rise with age, it is the younger 
generation that is staring down the most terrifying void. According to 
2006 figures, he writes, “overall life expectancy at age fifteen in the 
Russian Federation appears in fact to be lower than for some of the 
countries the UN designates to be least developed (as opposed to less 
developed), among these, Bangladesh, Cambodia, and Yemen.” Male life 
expectancy at age fifteen in Russia compares unfavorably to that in 
Ethiopia, Gambia, and Somalia.

full: http://www.nybooks.com/blogs/nyrblog/2014/sep/02/dying-russians/

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