Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Russian and Argentine Collapse: Similarities, differences and lessons learned

Image result for USSR collapse food
Folks there’s this fantastic thread over at ar15 survival forum where member Gyprat posts about his experience the Soviet Union during its socioeconomic collapse. I encourage you to follow the link and read the entire thread.Gyprat's insigths into societal collapse
 
Here are some thoughts and notes I took about parallelisms, similarities and some differences too with what I saw in Argentina.

1)” One day I remember well was in August of 1991, when communists attempted a government takeover coup. I was in Moscow that day. Everyone was scared and confused. Nothing was on the news. Oil pump quit in my little Lada's engine and I was not far from one of the busiest intersections, where tanks were taking positions to fire at something. I was lucky to have tools and skills to pull the oil pan off and to make a temporary repair to the oil pump shaft to get us back home.”
The Lada comment and car problems right in the middle of chaos, protests and social unrest. This means no one to call to tow your car, no help, no insurance or breakdown cover, you have to fix it yourself. In my case it wasn’t a Lada but a Renault 9. A reliable, but mostly simple carburetor engine vehicle that was easy to work on and parts easily available. Dear God I’m no mechanic by any stretch of the imagination but I knew that car well and could fix little problems with my Leatherman, some wire and duct tape. At times that made the difference between having a vehicle when SHTF all around you or not. Today, the lesson for me is keeping my Honda well equipped and well serviced in an official Honda shop.

2) The rumours, lies and misinformation. Understanding that the government lies, that companies lie (yes, for profit! Unbelievable!) , that the media owned by such companies lies as well. Lies and social engineering, how people’s opinion is “shaped” and they don’t even realize it. Maybe this is one of the most important, key aspects taking place today. Alas, 99.9% of people, even those that consider themselves “conservatives” don’t even realize they’ve been manipulated in such a way.

3)” Monetary system? Everything was cash based.”
Yup, indeed it was. Cash is king. Even when devaluating it’s still king. You have to be careful and watch before things go Venezuela or Weimar republic on you (meaning cash becoming practically worthless)  but cash gets things done.

4)” Some people had savings accounts in the only available, government owned bank. Once the inflation hit, savings accounts were frozen by the government. People had to stand in long lines to get a limited amount of money out. I can't remember all the details but the inflation hit very hard.”
Oh I sure can relate to that.
One of the most powerful tools that I’ve mentioned here before (even if some of the “experts” here have mocked me for it) having an off shore bank account and second nationality. When everyone in my country was struggling to get 300 pesos out of an ATM, I could go to a local branch of my off shore bank, use their ATM and get 1000 USD out of it, cash. Then go to an “arbolito”, street currency dealer, and turn that into 4000 pesos. Only Gyprat here understands what that means. To have your money safely abroad, and access it, while everyone else a)Lost 66% of their savings b) will keep losing more to inflation c) cant even access what’s left of it.

5)” I could barter almost anything for alcohol.”
Alcohol is always a valuable barter item, especially in times of war, but I believe its also very much cultural as well. A bottle of vodka sure has more of an appeal in a place like Russia than in South America. I my experience it was always cash the nice thing to have and most often used in bribes. Gyprat mentions cash bribes as well, I think it’s the “safest” route for something that has universal appeal. Maybe in USA a box of ammo has somewhat of a similar appeal, especially in more pro gun areas. In general though, if I had to advice anyone I’d say go with cash if you have to buy your way through trouble.
Regarding bribes, it sure is illegal and you shouldn’t do it, but then again sometimes you do NOT have an option. I know because I’ve been in such situations before. Sometimes it culturally accepted, (even if it wasn’t not long ago) and sometimes it’s so accepted that it’s expected of you, and not doing what’s expected of you when dealing with corrupt people with power gets you in very serious, life threatening trouble. Consider yourself lucky if you’ve never been in that position, but know that some of us have.

6)” Medical services were free.”
Free in Argentina too, although not nearly as good as having private cover like I had. One of my grandparents died before his time because of poor public cover. I will admit though that poor public cover is better than no cover, and that with the new government in Argentina the free public healthcare is doing much better once again. Turns out that when politicians aren’t stealing 90% of the people’s money, it’s much easier and cheaper to get shit done! If I was poor and suffered health problems, I’d rather be in Argentina today than in USA. Healthcare will be a main topic to work on for American survivalists in the future. You just have to check GD forum here to read up on some horror stories. Make it a priority to have as good health cover as you can afford, and as always options, options, options. The more the better.

7)” Water was another story. We live near the highest spot in the whole city. Water pressure was always low and we only had water from 6-9 AM and back at 5 through 8PM. That's it. Water quality was terrible too.”
Yup, little water and of poor quality. By code, homes in Argentina have at least a 1000l tank. That means the tank gets filled up during the times of the day that you actually have water, and you use the 1000l during the day. With a bit of careful use you can get through a couple days or more, but the problem is that people forget about the automated system and only realize theres something going on when they run out of the reserve tank which is no longer being refilled.
Poor water quality means a good water filter is essential.
“Natural gas, on the other hand, was always there and was almost free.”
Yes, natural gas is generally pretty reliable if you have a city connection. Its also much cheaper than buying bottles, another advantage of being closer to a town that actually has NG. Ironically enough, people that live further away, in many cases poor people that live in less consolidated areas, they have to pay a lot more for gas used for heating.

8) I was just telling my oldest son about the time my grandparents lost everything. They had been successful business owners, both of them. My grandfather had a large carpentry shop, half a block workshop, my grandmother had a successful bakery, also pretty big. They made very good money. Because of the increase in crime and a couple armed robberies my grandmother sold the bakery. They still had my grandfather’s business. My aunt convinced my grandfather that he was already a successful businessman, to just sell his company and live off interest and investments. So he did that. Sold it, put the money in the bank and bought a couple small rental flats. Then came the hyperinflation in the later 80’s. My father, an accountant and executive in a large bank, told them to take the money out of the bank ASAP. They didn’t listen, my aunt told them it would be all right. It wasn’t and they lost everything. The retirement collected each month was pitiful and really the rentals were the only thing keeping them afloat.
I remember it was the first time I heard my father shout so much. My grandparents were crying in the kitchen, asking him “what do we do now!?” My dad was so pissed, he shouted back “Nothing! now you’re fucked! Why didn’t you listen to me!?”.  Sometimes people self-destruct like that. You know what’s better for them, you try to make them understand but they just don’t listen. Of course it’s much worse when its people you care for.

9)” This meant that everything was tied to a real market price, tied to the real currency exchange rate. Prices skyrocketed. People were walking around in shock and disbelief after they saw new prices on food and everything else. It was like 10, 100 or 1000 times more than a month earlier. Yes, food was readily available but people could not afford much because they were still getting paid very little..”
Amen to that. This is what folks sometimes don’t understand. Cash is king, yet you have to be careful with hyperinflation. If a banana costs 1000 USD, does that mean the USD is worthless? Well, not if you need that banana and you have those 1000 bucks. “So I should stock up on bananas/tools/stuff! Sell it after the collapse!” Well… no. There’s lots of “stuff” floating around, the price will rarely be as good as you hope. Only certain items at a certain time keep up the price. In my case it was foreign currency, what Gyprat calls “real market price”. In the case of Argentina I know gold and silver stayed in that “real market price” too and that’s where I see Americans finding a safety net in such an economic disaster takes place there. Even if bananas cost 1000USD each, I don’t see 1oz gold coins selling for 2000 USD, the price will most likely than not go up just like the price of bananas did.

10)” Food was number one priority back then. Like I said previously, people were not really starving but they were not eating as good as what's considered normal here in the US. I often laugh when I hear on the news about people who "starve" here in the US. How is this possible when food is so cheap and available everywhere? Perhaps they call it starving when they can't afford to eat out everyday? Obviously they have no clue about basic things like cooking. Yes, it's nice to have pork chops or a steak every day but it costs a lot too. Why not make soup? It's relatively cheap and will feed a family for several days. A 50 lbs. bag of rice can be purchased at Costco for around $15 and will last for a long time. You can make a lot of mouth watering dishes from potatoes only. How can you go hungry in this country???”
Regarding food and eating habits it was as bad or even worse in Argentina in terms of eating habits. Argentines eat meat, and meat in Argentina means beef. An “asado” often mistaken with a BBQ, is not about grilling a few burgers or hotdogs. Its about getting all sorts of cuts from a cow, preparing the organs and eating it all. Any Argentine male worth his salt knows how to prepare a fire and cook everything inside an animal on it, most know how to ID each cut of meat and organ. We had to adapt and understand that in spite of our cultural tradition food didn’t mean a pound of beef in each plate. You had to stretch it, lots of rice, pasta, make soups, cook lentils. That same pound of meat that used to sit in a single plate now went into a big pot along with rice, vegetables etc and fed the entire family.  Sure this means learning to cook for those that don’t know how to do it already.

11) “My grandparents shared a lot stories about the WW2 with me. I sure learned a lot of valuable lessons from them. My grandmother told me stories about people trading everything they had, including gold and silver for a piece of dry bread so their children would not die of starvation, or at least live another week. This was true survival. Food was very important. Alcohol and tobacco were very valuable items as well.”
My wife’s grandparents went through WWII in Italy. Her grandmother had a big chain of gold and would go to town to sell a few link to buy whatever they needed. By the time they left Italy and moved to Argentina that neck chain had lost so many links it was now short enough to be a bracelet. My wife still has that bracelet. While I see how in some desperate situation you may end up trading precious metals at a great loss, in general I would say that with enough time and know how you can put precious metals to very good use, especially in countries where there’s already a culture and understanding of what precious metals are, how to ID them and their overall value.

12) “The supply line was always overloaded in summer months. Forget about running a hair dryer or any high wattage appliances. It was enough for lights and maybe for a TV. We were the only ones who could watch TV because my dad installed a CVT to keep the voltage close to 220V. Our neighbors were lucky if they got 160 Volts in the evening and it often sagged down to below 140 Volts and could spike to above 260V, early in the morning. It was enough for lights but not enough for a TV or any other appliance. The electrical company was owned by the government and could care less, like every other organization back then.”
This I can completely relate to and experiences the exact same thing. In my case, in Buenos Aires, we rarely had spikes, and it seemed that year round, other than in winter when AC weren’t used as much, you had 150V-160V instead of 220V. This isnt enough to run a microwave and the AC barely works or doesn’t work at all. I fixed it by installing a voltage elevator. That thing cost me a good bit of money but was worth every cent. Loved that thing. When I left I gave it away to my brother in law. He didn’t seem to care though, and in spite of being a pretty good electrician he just left it there in the house. By the time he could be bothered with picking it up someone else took it. Some people just cant be helped.

13)” One thing that was always available was bread.”
Probably strongly linked to the Soviet communist system. Its good that they managed to keep bread supplied but I certainly wouldn’t expect it in other countries. Even in current Venezuela its clear that they can’t keep people fed. Having flour and bakeries all over the country ready to supply the population on demand even when little else is working in terms of infrastructure is a serious achievement. Indeed, a person can live on bread and water, but I wouldn’t count on it in most countries if there’s a socioeconomic collapse.

14) “Having a vehicle for transportation is essential for living in this country. I did not need a car when I lived in Russia because everything was close and there was good and affordable public transportation in most Russian cities and even outside of city limits. American cities are spread out and it's nearly impossible to get places without a vehicle.”
This is another American-specific issue to prepare for. In Europe you can move around most countries without a car. Even with a car public transportation is very good and at times even more convenient. Why drive somewhere, park and such, if an air conditioned train gets you there faster without you having to drive? It is true that in certain small towns public transportation isnt as good but in America you are always expected to drive places rather than catch a train or bus. You need a car and you need one that works well, and is affordable to fuel and maintain. Heck, its so important you probably need two so as to have at least one backup.
“I would probably trade my new 4runner for a 4x4 Dodge 2500 truck with a Cummins diesel or another vehicle that runs on diesel fuel”
I just refilled my diesel Honda CRV. What was it? 30 bucks? I came back from Sierra Nevada just a few days ago. Round trip about five hours driving time and I still had fuel to drive around town and then some, about 44 mpg is I remember right. Diesel is just fantastic. Its not only cheaper, it just gives you a lot more range on these little engines, all while giving twice as much torque compared to gasoline.

15)” The city we lived in (Tula) was about 100 miles south of Moscow. Moscow, being the capital, always got much, much better food availability and selection than any other city in the country. Most government officials lived in Moscow and obviously they made sure that their city was supplied better than anywhere else. They also wanted to show off to some foreigners who visited the capital”
So much for large cities being the first place to burn down, refugees pouring out of them into the countryside!
It is indeed typical for collapsed countries to keep their capitals and other major cities strong. Its a practical decision (x money servicing a larger number of people) a strategic one (capitals are usual government headquarters) and psychological (the capital, the “head” of the country and what it stands for).

16)” Crime was getting worse by the day. Armed robberies became a new norm. People no longer trusted wooden entry doors with regular locks. My friend's company built new, hardened metal doors, locks and hinges that guaranteed to turn your apartment into a fortress. The doors were bullet resistant and guaranteed to stop a 7.62mm AKM round fired at a close range.”
Exact same thing in Argentina. Most houses have armoured doors. Not having one is practically asking criminals to rob you. Not kidding here, if you don’t have one and you get robbed people will go “what do you expect? Did you see that stupid flimsy door he had?”

17) “Moving to another country would be an ultimate test of your flexibility and ability to adjust to new conditions and culture.”
And I would add, it’s the ultimate solution to a large scale SHTF that affect a country or region.
It’s the one thing Gyprat and I have in common. We left the mess behind and found greener pastures. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side but it is if your side is collapsed Russia or Argentina. After years of researching disasters and survivalism I can say with confidence that when it gets THAT bad, you better move somewhere else. That’s the ultimate solution. Study, have skills, get an education, for God’s sake learn a second language and If you can get a second citizenship, don’t let such an opportunity go to waste if you happen to have it.
FerFAL
Fernando “FerFAL” Aguirre is the author of “The Modern Survival Manual: Surviving the Economic Collapse” and “Bugging Out and Relocating: When Staying is not an Option”.

1 comment:

Mike Yukon said...

Nice review of important issues before, during and after a collapse, thanks. I especially agree with an off-shore bank, I'm looking for one now, any suggestions. I'm in Florida, USA.