26th Anniversary of One of the Great Turning Points in History

by on 24 September, 2015

This week marks the 26th anniversary of probably one of the great turning points in world history.

It occurred in September 1989 when Boris Yeltsin, then an up-and-coming member of the Soviet Politburo, made his first trip to the USA.

At that time, the Soviets and their supporters still believed that a socialist system of government with centralised planning could out produce a free-market capitalist system thereby socialism would provide a higher standard of living for the average citizen.

Therefore when previous Russian leaders had visited America and they had been taken on tours of American supermarkets, Soviet leaders thought this was all put on for show, an American version of ‘Potemkin Village’ and so simply did not believe what their eyes told them.

However, back in September 1989 (before the fall of the Berlin Wall) a young Boris Yeltsin took a detour from his official itinerary and made an unscheduled and unannounced stop nondescript supermarket called Randalls (one of the speculations is that he may perhaps have wanted to buy a bottle of alcohol)

Yeltsin and his entourage wandered around the supermarket in amazement. In his autobiography ‘Against the Grain’ he recalled:

“When I saw those shelves crammed with hundreds, thousands of cans, cartons and goods of every possible sort, I felt quite frankly sick with despair for the Soviet people. That such a potentially super-rich country as ours has been brought to a state of such poverty! It is terrible to think of it.”

There is the most famous photograph of Yeltsin in that supermarket, looking over the produce in the frozen food section with his hands up in the air, and he could be simply saying, “The free market wins”

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In the book; ‘Down with Big Brother: the Fall of the Soviet Empire’ records in detail this turning point in history, and I would like to quote from it. It says:

“A turning point in Yeltsin’s intellectual development occurred during his first visit to the United States in September 1989, more specifically his first visit to an American supermarket, in Houston, Texas.

“The sight of aisle after aisle of shelves neatly stacked with every conceivable type of foodstuff and household item, each in a dozen varieties, both amazed and depressed him.

“It was impressive precisely because of its ordinariness. A cornucopia of consumer goods beyond the imagination of most Soviets was within the reach of ordinary citizens without standing in line for hours.”

“And it was all so attractively displayed. For someone brought up in the drab conditions of communism, even a member of the relatively privileged elite, a visit to a Western supermarket involved a full-scale assault on the senses”.

“ ‘What we saw in that supermarket was no less amazing than America itself’, recalled Lev Sukhanov, who accompanied Yeltsin on his trip to the United States and shared his sense of shock and dismay at the gap in living standards between the two superpowers.

“I think it is quite likely that the last prop of Yeltsin’s Bolshevik consciousness finally collapsed after Houston. His decision to leave the party and join the struggle for supreme power in Russia may have ripened irrevocably at that moment of mental confusion.”

“ ‘On the plane, traveling from Houston to Miami, Yeltsin seemed lost in his thoughts for a long time. He clutched his head in his hands. Eventually he broke his silence. “They had to fool the people,’ he told Sukhanov.”

Sdly some today continue; “to try and fool the people” as they peddle centralalised planning and socialist policies.

Craig Kelly MP is the Liberal MP for Hughes. This is an edited version of a speech delivered in parliament last week. 

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