Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Collapse of the USSR

Below is another guest essay sent to us by Dimitri K., our Russian correspondent. It’s gratifying to be able to present an account of Russian history from an entirely Russian perspective.

Mr. K.’s opinions about the USSR are his own, and do not necessarily reflect those of Gates of Vienna. I invite readers to treat our guest courteously in the comments — if you want to take issue with what he has to say, I’m certain that he would welcome friendly and constructive criticism.

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The Collapse of the USSR
A Figurative Account
by Dimitri K.


Serve the countryThere are several different explanations for the sudden collapse of what used to be one of two superpowers of the 20th century. Economists blame the weakness of the Soviet economy. Americans believe it is due to the Afghan war and Ronald Reagan, who called the USSR the “Evil Empire”. Russians blame Mikhail Gorbachev. All those reasons are true to some extent; however, none of them can explain why the country, not too poor and seemingly stable, broke apart so fast. Many countries have experienced worse problems in their history and yet did not collapse. Russians were neither ruthless conquerors nor cruel occupants. Some republics of the USSR had once joined Russia voluntarily for political reasons, other were re-captured by Russians from other empires. Many of those republics were themselves multi-national entities and experienced problems with their own minorities. However, almost nobody doubts the right of those republics to be independent countries, whereas almost everybody claims that USSR was an artificial entity.

Differences in lifestyles were also not the reason for the collapse. Actually, from Ukraine to the Far East, from Lithuania to Georgia, the majority of the population lived a similar life style, understood a common language and did not feel much hatred towards each other. The Soviet Union rather subsidized its European republics than exploited them. Colleges in large cities had reserved vacancies for minorities. I asked my wife, and she argued that the Soviet people existed, because we all had friends of differing national origins and we never had any problems communicating with one another.

And suddenly it all collapsed. The author offers his own explanation, which is figurative but non-contradictory.

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov, Влади́мир Ильи́ч Улья́новSuppose that the Soviet people really existed. Every people must have its forefather, a symbolic figure from whom the people originates. In Russian it is especially clear, because the Russian equivalents for “forefather”, “family”, “people” and “motherland” all have the same root. The forefather of the Jews was Abraham; other nations probably have similar real or mythical persons in their history. The forefather of the Soviet people was Lenin. It was never stated openly, but it was implied. Children learned poems about the kind and wise “grandfather Lenin”. From songs we knew that we all were the children of the Revolution, and that the Revolution was created (given birth to) by Lenin. Of this point there should be no doubt.

However, there was something unique about the founder of the Soviet people. In 1917 power in Russia was usurped by the radical fraction of the Social-Democrats who called themselves “Bolsheviks”. Almost all leaders of the party, those who had led the Revolution, were later officially called “the enemies of the people”. Their leader, Lenin, was announced to be “eternally alive”. The body that was “eternally alive” lay in the coffin, supposedly imperishable. Who is he, the leader of “the enemies of the people”, lying in the coffin, not dead and not alive? By this description, it can only be a vampire.
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There are other indications that the Bolsheviks were associated with the revived dead. They called themselves “Red”, and explained that it was because of blood (though did not specify whose blood). The Russian verb that Bolsheviks used for “rebel” is the same as one used for dead coming to life (vosstal). The metaphor of sucking blood was widely used by Bolsheviks — according to them, capitalists used to suck workers’ blood, but the Revolution was supposed to reverse all the injustice done before. Lenin died from a stroke, but a Communist legend said that he was shot by a special kind of bullet. Red fighters struck enemies with sabers, for which they used a synonym suspiciously similar to Russian equivalent of “fangs” (klinki-kliki). That was different from the Russian military tradition of praising the “fine fellow bayonet”; clearly, “fine fellow bayonet” is rather a property of living men, whereas vampires have fangs.

And the final logical conclusion in this theory — a vampire cannot be a forefather, because he cannot be a father. Thus, the Soviet people, supposedly originating from a vampire, could not exist. And the State established by a vampire can be nothing but the “Evil Empire”. It collapsed immediately as soon as collapse became possible, and its inhabitants rushed to leave the empire for less comfortable but more humane national states. Nobody wants to be a descendant of a vampire. The Great Experiment on producing an artificial nation with an eternally but incompletely alive forefather ended in failure. And may it be a lesson for those who want to build a nation: never choose a vampire to be your founding father.

6 comments:

Vol-in-Law said...

"Russians were neither ruthless conquerors nor cruel occupants."

I think most non-Russians have a different opinion on this.
An interesting article; I think Marxist ideology has always had the qualities of a death cult and this rather provides support for that view.

gun-totin-wacko said...

Hmmm. I had higher hopes for this when I saw the headline. Though the admonition to be gentle made my little ears stand up.

I'm with Vol-in-law. Most of the "nations" (or alternatively, tribes) of the USSR were conquered by the Russians. Unless all my history lessons were mistaken. Somehow, assuming that Dimitri was brought up under Soviet rule, I doubt it was *my* history teachers who were misleading their students.

At any rate, I think he seems to confuse, in a way, Russia and the USSR. The Soviet Union is the entity that people question, and I think rightfully so. There were a lot of different nations (I mean it here in both the "ethnic" and "political" sense) that were brought under the Russian yoke, both before and after Lenin. Russia is-and has been for over a millenium- a nation and a country.

So nobody questions whether Russia is a nation, but the USSR was a collection of different peoples, all dominated by the Russian State, and forced, as I understand it, to give up their own traditions. And that's what bothers people, I think.

At any rate, his overall thesis about the vampire-father is interesting. Wish I knew Russian, so that I could nod my head knowingly and say "Wow, he's right. I never thought of it that way before".

Fellow Peacekeeper said...

Ah. I will offer a comment in two parts. Part one where I take issue with the grotesque untruths that Mr. Kolb assumes, however in part two I will describe some agreement with his insight into the nature of Communism.

Part One.

... our Russian correspondent. It’s gratifying to be able to present an account of Russian history from an entirely Russian perspective.
Indeed, it is entirely a Russian perspective, and at a guess from a priveledged big city (Moscow/Leningrad) perspective.

There are several different explanations for the sudden collapse of what used to be one of two superpowers of the 20th century. ... none of them can explain why the country, not too poor and seemingly stable, broke apart so fast. Many countries have experienced worse problems in their history and yet did not collapse.
The USSR was poor, and only seemed stable. Total state control of the media can do that, doubly when combined with arrests of anyone who dared to claim otherwise. Few other countries survived on lies so much as the USSR, big lies, little lies. Lies everywhere. To question the lies was to invite an "interview", and thereby lies became a direct means of control. Even science became perverted by the lies, since the truth one can see with ones own eyes is not the most important truth.

Economists blame the weakness of the Soviet economy.
If a city shop had a stock of sausage, which was somewhat greasy and already going green, a line would form around the block of people eager to purchase it. We are talking about a country were people carefully washed and ironed plastic shopping bags, because a good plastic bag (as was handed out with every pair of shoes or trousers in the outside world) would have to last for years.

Americans believe it is due to the Afghan war and Ronald Reagan, who called the USSR the “Evil Empire”.
The Afghan war exposed the complete moral bankrupcy of the USSR and spoiled the taste of foreign military adventures, which directly lead to declining to intervene in the collapse of the wall period in Eastern Europe in 1989. This is rather important considering the usual Soviet brand of occupation tactics (discussed below).

Russians blame Mikhail Gorbachev.
At least partly true - If Andropov (or similar) had lived I believe the USSR would have kept together. Of course as time went on it would more and more resemble North Korea. Gorbachev had the misfortune of not being a bloody handed tyrant and trying to do they right thing by the USSR and its people. I guess that makes him a naive fool.

Russians were neither ruthless conquerors nor cruel occupants.
That is a joke, unless we are comparing them to the Mongols of circa 1200? The Russian Empire and then the USSR invading and occupying nation after nation and raping, robbing , massacaring and finally deporting en mass the populations thereof. The key to Soviet control was always unlimited brutality - no matter how bitter the resistance the Russians/Soviets would hammer you until you broke. When you were broken, a mass of secret police would keep the populace in a permanent and justified state of fear.

The Chechens are exhibit no. 1, having been occupied by the Russian empire after over 20 years of fighting and 70 of occupation, deported every single man, woman and child in 1944 for no real good reason, and now bludgeoned into submission by 15 years of mass terror. Incidentally one of the outcomes of the first war was the conversion of the Chechens to Islam, while the last has driven the secularist proto-Republic of Dudayev into the hands of the radical Islamists.

Some republics of the USSR had once joined Russia voluntarily for political reasons, other were re-captured by Russians from other empires.
Voluntary? From other Empires? Hardly. Let us see : the three Baltics were independent (invaded and annexed 1940), Moldova was annexed from Romania in 1940 as was part of Poland that became most of Belrus, the rest were countries newly independent from the Russian empire were invaded and reoccupued by the Red Army in 1920/21 (with the usual brutality, for instance Tajikistan has really never recovered), excepting those newly independent from the Ottoman empire which were invaded and occupied by the Red Army in 1920/21.

Many of those republics were themselves multi-national entities and experienced problems with their own minorities. However, almost nobody doubts the right of those republics to be independent countries, whereas almost everybody claims that USSR was an artificial entity.
Many multiethnic? Problems? Then as now that is quite simply Not True.

Differences in lifestyles were also not the reason for the collapse. Actually, from Ukraine to the Far East, from Lithuania to Georgia, the majority of the population lived a similar life style, understood a common language and did not feel much hatred towards each other.
That is a very Russian opinion. The similar lifestyle (marxist-leninst rhetoric, alcohol, soulless make-work, boredom, concrete apartment blocks) and language (And here I must apologise but we are talking about the de facto existing degenerate zek/pidgen modern Russian where every other sentance is punctauted by "bljad" and virtually every concept can be expressed by a derviation of "hui", and not the language of Pushkin nd Tolstoy that mostly exists only in books) was forced on non-Russians at gunpoint on pain of deportation or worse. Of course thats in the cities - older and worthier ways survived out in the countryside at least in the republics. And while it may be news to most Russians, they are are almost universally loathed in every country that has had contact with them, and this is nothing new. In the USSR not liking Russian or Russians could get one a "interview", that just made it easier not to notice.

The Soviet Union rather subsidized its European republics than exploited them.
Oh please. Pull the other leg, it's got bells on it.

Colleges in large cities had reserved vacancies for minorities.
After enacting de facto mechanisms to exclude non-Russians from all the other non-reserved places. As well as from newly constructed apartments, good jobs, etc etc. :) An artificial shortage as it were.

Suppose that the Soviet people really existed.
Oh but they did! The USSR called them "Russians", just as we do today. They should not be confused with "Russians" before 1918. The difference between the New Soviet Man and Russians was far wider back in the beginning. Time went on and most Russians were deliberatly decultured to became Homo soveticus, although they were certainly not the New Soviet Man that they was supposed to become (Homo soveticus was a broken parody of New Soviet Man, caused by the collision of Marxist social engineering with reality). The USSR worked hard to force other people also to become the same, by standardizing housing (concrete tower blocks whether they were appropriate the climate and situation, or as more often - not), enforcing Russian/Soviet language in all education (use of local languages was a sign of nationalism and relegated to the level of quaint local ethnicity, good for museums etc), enforcing artifical holidays and banning the old ones (like Christmas or Midsummer), enforcing doublethink, conscription into the Red Army and brutalization therein, banning religion.

And propaganda. Lots of it. Everywhere. All the time. 24/7/365. On the TV, in the hospital, at the bus stop, in the newspaper, at work, at school, on the buildings. Indeed, everywhere but the swamps and fields and deep green forest. So they enforced collectivization, to ensure that people could not live alone in the countryside where they may harbour unSoviet ideas.

Needless to say, the combination of hopelessness and doublethink caused mental dissonance, combined with the lack of alternate means of escape, engendered universal alcoholism on a massive scale. It is also said that the real reason the USSR fell is Gorbachev naively restricted the supply of vodka and people sobered up enough to see what was really happening :).

Communism and political correctness are branches that spring from one root. While they differ in focus, the basal assumptions are similar, and therefore the results when applied to other branches of human endevour are likely to similar. I suggest that much of what is observed about the USSR is where political correctness must inevitably lead if it becomes the power.

einhejrer said...

Well, with all respect for the vampiric thesis - i suppose that that was how it felt being in the Soviet Union - there are other reasons the socialist system does not work.

To understand the socialist idea, you have to understand the philosophy of Marx and the sources of his ideas. After all Marx designet socialism.

First of all, the grandness of Marx, and also his demise, is the fact that he founded a new scientific angle on reality - he found truth in economics. That was really something - it however also have consequences that was not realized fully until the breakdown of communism.

Basically you cannot find any moral goodness in economics, it is just that; figures and numbers. Therefor, the moral of society disappears, and ultimately the society will break down.

You have other fields in where you can find truth, physics, mathematics, biology, astronomy, ethics - and what is really working; in democracy, in "samtale" - speech.

Another thing that broke down communism, is the fact that the philosphical system is not really wellmade. Marx was very inspired by the spartan constitution, as many other europeans have been - and will be. I is a little difficult to trace his inspiration, but he has not read the original sources very well. I think he was basically inspired by Rousseau and Plato. The gender equality is most definitely Plato, and Rousseau lived shortly before Marx and was the main philosoper of the french revolution. If he had read what Rousseau had read namely; Plutarch and the way Plutarch describes the Spartans and most importantly the spartan philosopher Lycurgus, he would have been more careful with the idea of internationalism. Lycurgus made it very clear, that the spartan constitution was closed and should not be changed. He knew that if new ideas came into Sparta, Sparta would break down. If Marx had heeded this point, communism would have survived i think.

Actually this was the angle, that the most dangerous of all socialists forms took, that of National socialism - also called Nazism. If it had survived, it would have ruled the world today, i think.

It is not to say that the spartans did not have qualities, they had, they were very just and courageous. A single spartan could stop a war in hellas, just by being there, just by moral example. So the core of Sparta was good, and Lycurgus made a system with qualities that saved Hellas a few times - you probably saw the film "300".

The danish philosopher commented on the socialist coup made in Denmark in the 70´ties - he called it "dilletantokrati" amateurocracy. And that is basically the problem of socialism, it is, seen from a classical philosophers point of view, a system with too many flaws.

It is important, that the philosophers make good systems, otherwise it will make a lot of problems for ordinary people - and Marx did not make a very good system. Democracy is the best system there is - it difficult to maitain, but if you do, you have the most free and just system.

Ypp said...

2 Peacekeaper

Actually, the author is kind of criticizing communism himself. As for Russia, the point was that she was not much worse then other empires. Many nations tried to create empires once in history: Britain, France, Sweden, Poland, Lithuania, Germany, Austrria, Hungary, Spain, Portugal, Serbia e.t.c. In Britain, France, Spain and Germany lots of people still speak local dialects. How were those countries united? I guess not without some military effort. Except for communism, which is not a Russian invention by the way, Russia is just another empire.

Yorkshireminer said...

I wold just like to throw in a couple of suggestions why the Soviet Union collapsed Command markets lets call them socialist markets have different qualities from demand markets lets call them capitalistic. Lets also define countries into needs and want markets. A poor country is obviously a needs market Russia after the first world war is a perfect example, economic production was at a tenth of the prewar level in 1920, Russia was starving and in need of nearly everything. Armand Hammer made a very good living trading with Russia in the 1920s while selling Russian artworks to the west to pay for them all with the blessing of Lenin. America is rich and is obviously a demand economy. A large part of the populations income can be used to purchase nick nacks as a smaller percentage is consumed to supply needs.

Let us take for example the need for shoes in Russia after the first world war. There was obviously a need for shoes but there was no way it could be supplied because the people had no money. In a command economy it is much easier to satisfy this need you plan and command. This certainly worked in Russia during the inter war years with all the five year plans. The physical needs of the Russian were satisfied to a minimum level and it was able to defend itself during the second world war. It even worked very well for approximately 15 years after the war. I can remember Khrushchev on a visit to America in the 60s saying that Russia would overtake America in a few years. What went wrong, if you have no boots or shoes you don't give a dam what color or style they are as long as they keep you feet dry and warm. What happens now if the need for boots are satisfied, you are now a little bit richer you would like a little bit of choice say in color or style. To satisfy this you need a demand economy not a command economy. It was at this point that the Russian economy began to falter. They could have changed over to a more capitalistic market economy, but as this was an anathema to all that Communism stood for it was impossible. The Chinese understood this perfectly when they saw the fate of Russia in 1989 and and changed tack immediately, freeing up their markets.

Another point I would like to make is point made by professor Tom Stonier of Bradford university who argued in 1979 ten years before the collapse of Russia that a critical point is reached making it difficult for totalitarian regimes to hold on to power is when 20% of the Population have telephones. To control a population a totalitarian regime need vertical communication to control the population. It seems that when 20% of the population have telephones then a critical mass is reached and the regime is not able to control or prevent a more lateral form of communication in the society and will gradually disintegrate as a consequence. A parallel might be made between the invention of movable type in 1446 by Gutenberg and the reformation. It is an interesting point to ponder, that when Alexandra Graham Bell invented the telephone, he planted the seed that lead to the downfall of an empire.

Perhaps when 20% of the populations of Islamic countries are connected to the Internet we might see the beginning of the demise of Islam.

I myself have speculated that the shouting and ranting coming out of the Islamic world now, might be no more than a primeval death rattle, as it slowly disintegrates.