December 16, 2011

Homo sovieticus is alive and well

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Posted By admin On 11 December 11 @ 8:47 In Michał Bąkowski | Comments

The soviet “elections” were rigged.  And bears indeed do defecate in the woods.  Thousands of young soviet democrats found themselves in Moscow on the election day, as if by magic, and all voted as one and for the same one – many times.  They made their camp in the stalinist palace of exhibition of people’s achievement.  The polling day started with a massive cyber attack on the websites of a radio station Ekho Moskvy and an independent election monitor; and it ended with 140% turnout and 99.5% support for Putin’s party in some polling stations.  Some well intentioned and unbelievably brave individuals tried to stop multiple voting and were thrown out of polling stations.  None of this was surprising though, as only extremely naïve observers can attach any significance to soviet elections.  And yet, I was amazed by the commentary I’ve read in the latest Economist.  The London weekly is one of the best edited magazines in the world, with consistently good writing and a clear political line – clear albeit somewhat confusing for readers not acquainted with it.  The Economist sees itself on the right in economic matters but is firmly on the left on social issues.  In other words, it is a liberal paper.  However, in the last issue we read an article headlined The long life of Homo sovieticus, which is full of unusually accurate analysis of the state of Putin’s “Russia”:

“It is smaller, more consumerist and less collective than the Soviet Union. But while the ideology has gone, the mechanism for sustaining political power remains. Key institutions, including courts, police and security services, television and education, are used by bureaucrats to maintain their own power and wealth. The presidential administration, an unelected body, still occupies the building (and place) of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

More important, the Soviet mental software has proved much more durable than the ideology itself. When, in 1989, a group of sociologists led by Yuri Levada began to study what they called Soviet Man, an artificial construct of doublethink, paternalism, suspicion and isolationism, they thought he was vanishing. Over the next 20 years they realised that Homo sovieticus had mutated and reproduced, acquiring, along the way, new characteristics such as cynicism and aggression. This is not some genetic legacy, but the result of institutional restrictions and the skewed economic and moral stimuli propagated by the Kremlin.”

The author describes the last 20 years of soviet history in terms we have grown unfortunately accustomed to.  This is a tutorial based on the “independent” soviet sources so we have the obligatory collapse of communism, which was supposed to bring hope that “Russia will embrace Western values”; but the soviet intelligentsia proved to be inadequate to the task of creating new power structures; marginalized for so long, soviet people did not care to take responsibility for a “new state”.  After 1993, with increasingly chaotic economic situation, the great majority of soviet people yearned for soviet “stability” and then, as if a rabbit was pulled out of a hat, Putin appeared out of nowhere.
According to the British weekly, Putin realized that ideology was hollow and what mattered was power and money so he began to consolidate his power base by liquidating any potential alternatives to his authority.  Whilst during the Yeltsin years the oligarchs were protected from competition by their own considerable power, Putin managed to turn them all into vassals and from then on it was his power that guaranteed their ownership of assets, i.e. only an obedient vassal could be a “Russian billionaire”.  Thus Putin “monetised privilege”.  In the previous era of soviet power, the nomenklatura enjoyed many advantages over the rest of society in return for loyal service.  Putin turned the system of arbitrary privilege into a system of property ownership.  However, whilst in law abiding societies private property is protected by law, in Putin’s system property is protected and ownership confirmed by the bureaucrats so it could be taken away as easily as Stalin’s dachas.  The best example of this system is the sad story of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who still languishes in prison as a memento mori for all other oligarchs still at large.  Police, prosecutors, courts are no more than tools of Putin’s control over the economy.

„This adds up to a Soviet-style policy of negative selection, where the best and most active are suppressed or eliminated while parasitic bureaucrats and law enforcers are rewarded. What Stalin wrought by repression and extermination, today’s Russia achieves by corruption and state violence.”

In conclusion, the journalist asks how Putin’s “highly personalised power might be challenged” since he’s not afraid to revert to violence to defend it.  But he also maintains that no change of leader will free their country from the soviet grip because Homo sovieticus is alive and well.

So much for The Economist.  I quoted large fragments of this article for one reason: it is very rare to come across an author, writing in mainstream Western media about contemporary soviet affairs – constantly and wrongly referred to as “Russian” – and identifying sovietisation as the fundamental characteristic of soviet power.  Terms such as homo sovieticus, homosos or sovietisation do not belong to the vocabulary of modern writers.  They could sometimes – very rarely – be mentioned by historians but usually with patronising irony.  Simon Sebag Montefiore for instance, in his excellent books about Stalin, gently pokes fun at the arrogant, uneducated fools, steering the ship of the soviet state and believing that they could create a new man.  Well, all right, but if the anonymous author in The Economist (all articles in this publication are traditionally unsigned) understands the situation so well, describes it so accurately, why does he write things like this, for instance:

„Such tactics, in which enemies are everywhere and no one is allowed a noble motive, breed a general cynicism. In this, post-Soviet Russia feels very different from the Soviet Union. Leaders then had values, not just interests. The Communist Party might have been sclerotic and repressive, but it was not called a party of thieves and crooks. Soviet leaders did not encourage cynicism: they took themselves and their words seriously.”

Obviously, he does not see any contradiction in his position because he does not understand the essence of communism.  Why doesn’t he?? – that is the question.  The quote above deserves a closer look for the reason of being representative of a certain type of mentality: the frame of mind of well educated, young, liberal graduates of excellent Western Universities, which have all fallen victim of Gramscian “march through institutions.”  One of the unfortunate results of the aforementioned march through the Western establishment is the universal perception of propaganda as truth and truth as propaganda in the name of “objectivism”.

Putin uses a classic stalinist method of social consolidation through the image of surrounded fortress.  The Economist’s author seems to be saying that Stalin’s fortress of “socialism in one country” created some sort of an exalted idealism, whilst Putin’s fortress results in cynicism only.  He does not perceive that the alleged idealism, of which he read in books, was a product of soviet propaganda and was supposed to mask the deep seated cynicism of both the society at large and the soviet leaders.  People only appeared idealistic on soviet posters, shouted “hurrah!” because they hardly had a choice, because they were afraid.  The soviet leaders had no “values” whatsoever, they had only interests – the party’s interests and the interest in their own survival; calling this “values” brings the debate to the level of kindergarten.  But I am willing to give way!  So let’s say that Gienrikh Yagoda had “values”, when he ordered the removal of still hot bullets from the brains of Kamenev and Zinoviev and marked them with victims’ respective names.  Let’s call Yezhov an idealist because he kept those bullets when he ordered Yagoda to be tortured and humiliated before execution.  I suspect Beria was also deserving of a idealist tag when he in turn ordered the execution of Yezhov to be a mirror image of Yagoda’s death.  Faced with such values I’d rather be a cynic.

Ah!  Beria!  Let’s have a closer look at this scoundrel, shall we?  Not because of his values but due to the so called “testament”.  Naturally, there never was any real “will” but there is a number of reports of his plans for the future after Stalin.  When Stalin was partly paralysed and dying in his dacha in Kuntsevo, Beria was freely blaspheming against the generalissimo and making plans for the future, which sound curiously familiar.  It was Beria who coined the phrase “the cult of personality”, he was full of scorn about Stalin’s role in defeating Hitler.  He would grant autonomy to soviet nations, liberate the economy, free East Germany.  He wanted to open the Gulag, proclaim amnesty and expose the absurdity of Stalin’s terror.  “He did not doubt for a moment that his superior intelligence and fresh anti-bolshevik ideas would triumph,” says Sebag Montefiore.  He wanted to allow soviet citizens the freedom of travel and dreamt that his grandchildren would one day attend private schools in Britain.  His dreams have probably been fulfilled by now.

But perhaps in the eyes of The Economist it was Khrushchev and Malenkov who deserved the label of “idealists”?  Khrushchev managed to convince the remaining politburo members that they would only exchange one Georgian murderer for another and they agreed to act against Beria.  Malenkov, a close ally of Beria, who as an ethnic Russian was designated to become the new leader, gave the signal to Zhukov’s troops who entered the politburo sitting and arrested Beria.  In good old, idealistic, bolshevik tradition Beria’s family was arrested too.  He was sentenced to death for treason he never committed and shot, whilst stripped to his underwear, handcuffed to a hook in the wall and gagged.  General Batitsky who shot him in the face – should we see ithis as progress in the period of idealistic de-stalinisation in comparison with stalinist shot in the back of the head? – was later promoted to Marshal in recognition of his role.

Shall I continue on the subject of “values soviet leaders had”?  Is it really the case that the kompartia was never called “a party of thieves and crooks”?  I can assure the author that it was and not without reason, but somehow I don’t imagine I will convince him.  Soviet propaganda machine managed to create a uniformed image of soviet history.  It is unfortunate that this image informs authors of otherwise interesting articles in The Economist.  There is an even more blinding example of deferring to the soviet propaganda in another sentence in the same article:

„Yeltsin, who hated communism, had refused to censor the media or interfere in the court system. Mr Putin had no such qualms.”

It is true to say that Yeltsin presided over a period of unprecedented media freedom but it would be enough to look at the soviet history to know that there were many tactical turns and changes of direction: nep, thaw, détente, glasnost’, perestroika etc.  Yeltsin’s aim was to further the belief that communism had collapsed, both in the West and amongst his more sceptical (and cynical) population.  To keep power when everyone thinks you gave it up – that’s no mean feat.  Yeltsin managed it quite well.  He never interfered with the soviet courts because he didn’t need to.  After all, these were still the same courts of the previous soviet era.  Relative freedom of the media was a small price to pay.  At the same time, Yeltsin did not hesitate to use violence in his attack on the parliament building during the October 1993 crisis when his power was threatened.

The funniest thing in the above quote is the insistence that Yeltsin hated communism.  Boris Yeltsin was a party apparatchik who carried out party instructions all his life.  Had he torn up his party card and began a struggle against communism I could believe his conversion but he became a president of the sovietised nation instead.  As for Putin, he had no qualms about censorship or interfering with the courts because such was the role he had to play.  Paradoxically, the personalities of Putin and Yeltsin could easily have played the opposite roles.  A teetotal with blue eyes could have without difficulty been the reformer, moderniser, democrat and champion of capitalism, whilst the inebriated buffoon might have been the one turning the screw later.  To a certain extent this is what actually had happened: Yeltsin shot at the parliamentarians in 1993 – officially, there were 187 dead, unofficially 2000 – and Putin is to this day hailed as the defender of private property that basis of capitalism.  The truth is that both did exactly what the situation demanded of them.

Yeltsin and Putin were both cut from the same cloth; both belonged to the same ruling collective and never denied the close ties between them.  I will not recount here the story of Putin’s coming to prominence.  Suffice it to say that carrying out an operation as complex as “Storm in Moscow” (and surviving the bungling of it) was possible only with the close collaboration of the entire state apparatus.

So what do we have here?  An intelligent observer who sees clearly that Homo sovieticus is alive and well.  The Economist journalist perceives with remarkable clarity, and describes with lucidity, the state of affairs in today’s “Russia”, by recalling a key term of the status quo ante – sovietisation.  But on the other hand, the same observer reverts to the description of the status quo ante helpfully offered by the soviet propaganda.  He takes for granted the totally unjustified claims of alleged soviet “values”, whilst it would suffice to read some Lenin or even the Communist Manifesto, to remind oneself that no values can play any part in communist world view.  Indeed, they are no more than symptoms of the infantile sickness of leftism, which every communist should purge himself of as quickly as possible.  Every tactical change of direction is permissible when it brings them closer to acquiring power or strengthening their hold on power.  Our author seems to be saying: “bolshevism – YES! Distortions – NO!”

The very existence of the Homo sovieticus, as so accurately described by The Economist, is the best guarantee of soviet power.  It was the progress of sovietisation that enabled the soviets to go through the revolutions in Eastern Europe in 1989.  In every one of these countries the revolution had be kick-started by the secret police.  After the giant success of 1989, it was the so called Moscow coup, which provided the spectacle of dramatic events commensurate with the collapse of communism.  It also promoted Boris Yeltsin from the role of a thorn in the side of Gorbi, the favourite of the West, to the role of “saviour of all Russia”.  It wouldn’t have been possible without 70 years of sovietisation.  Such an extraordinary painting could only be attempted on canvas grounded by the homosos.

However, before my readers come to the conclusion that the astonishing courage of Moscow protesters could spell the end of Putin’s extension of the soviet union, before eternal hope whispers in our ears that this could be a glimmer of light at the end of the very long tunnel of terror, blood and sovietisation, let me point out that Putin’s party, according to unofficial polls, lost the last election to the communists.

This is not the end of the tunnel, this is an oncoming train.

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