Elite vs. People: The Post-Soviet Chasm As a Result of The Soviet Cultural Continuity
Modern Russian Federation is the legal, political, and cultural heir not to the historical Russia, the genuine Russia, but to the USSR: all the current processes in the country can be explained by this inheritance. It feels strange to me when they try to “forget” about it in one way or another.
It is quite easy though to open your eyes a bit wider coming to the country to see that there are soviet idols everywhere, all over the place, all around: statues of the soviet leaders and criminals-terrorists. From Moscow to the most outlying districts. Communist Street 1 continues as Communist Street 2 and then Communist Street 3, the latter crosses Soviet Avenue parallel to Lenin’s Avenue, a bit farther is Street of Baku Commissars. Square of B?la Kun, Marshal Blucher Avenue, Volodarsky Street, Parkhomenko Street, Yaroslavsky Street... and so on. And so forth. Soviet toponymy, almost entirely soviet toponymy. It has been almost 20 years since the collapse of the Soviet Union. However on the territory of the Russian Federation everything stayed as it was before, preserved, as if nothing happened. It would be the same thing if in today’s Berlin the tourists would be walking down the Hitlerstrasse, then would pass on to G?ringstra?e, and would finally sit down by the statue of the glorious heroes of the Third Reich. And – let’s pay attention to this – not a single one out of somewhat influential social forces objects to the cultural environment that presents almost exclusively the bolshevist executioners and murderers. Not a single one: not the “patriots”, not the “democrats”, not the “liberals”. Say, they are keeping today’s “renaissance” of Stalin in the RF on the boil, but not the total bolshevization of the cultural environment. As to the “patriots”, it can be understood. But the “liberals” are somewhat odd in the RF. And the “democrats” are very strange. Therefore, this soviet-post-soviet continuity suits them quite well. Cultural. And political. And legal.
It is not by chance that the RF citizens are surrounded by all these soviet names. It is the cultural (and not only cultural) politics. In 1991 three paths were opening up before the RF: 1) close integration with Europe (like in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania); 2) the return to it’s own history of pre-soviet period (as it happened, for instance, in Czech Republic); 3) the following of the slightly modernized but easily recognizable soviet path. It is the third path that was chosen.
Having chosen the sovietism as the vector of country development certain attributes of the true, genuine historical Russia were employed: for instance, three-color flag, state emblem, and some other elements covering up the matter and meant to legitimize power claims of the entirely sovietized modern Elite with its pretentions to “Russian” historical heritage. As a result, one ends up having some sort of a “Leninburg”, to use the name of the Finnish version of the book by Elena Helleberg-Hirn.
I want to be properly understood. I am not idealizing The Russian Empire. It has its own “sins” that it could, but did not want to (or did not have time to) correct. For example, it could let Poland to obtain independency from the Empire as it wished to. It could stop the forced Russification in the ethnic outlying districts of the Empire. It was necessary to eliminate the pale – and provide the Jews with equal rights, it was necessary to put an end to the shameful prosecutions of the Old Believers. And so on.
However, despite all of this Russia was, so to say, quite a normal country, it was possible for people to live in Russia. When compared to the Soviets, Russia used to be a miraculously free country. When the World War I was at its height, for example, it was not only that Russian prisoners of war could have a correspondence with their relatives staying in captivity, but also it was possible to distribute almost unrestrictedly both pacifist and openly defeatist publications. And all this was taking place in the country that was in the state of war!
This seems to be just as unbelievable to the sovietized minds of my fellow RF citizens as imagining, for instance, publications of general Vlasov’s Russian Liberation Army being openly distributed in the soviet newsstands at the height of the battle of Stalingrad.
People who write history textbooks in Russia prefer to “forget” that it was precisely the “defeatists” of the 1914 who wished for the defeat of Russia in the World War I, who then became the soviet Elite and the soviet nomenclature and who suddenly remembered in 1941 about the “Motherland defense” (even though “soviet” and “socialist”).
Today’s usurpation of the Russian cultural heritage, including the Church, and the use of it by the post-soviet Elite is the same in nature as the use of the imperial attributes by the soviet bolshevik Stalin in order to legitimize the “right” for that same “Russian heritage”.
I would like to remind briefly some absolutely obvious, though often “forgotten”, key points that can help to understand the continuity of the soviet and the post-soviet. This state, the Soviet Union, was initially created by its communist Elite as a springboard for the world revolution. Only after this goal had not been achieved (socialist revolution in Germany was defeated and the attack to Poland got bogged down), absolutely unwillingly international Elite – i.e. soviet government body – had to half-heartedly “build socialism in a separately taken country”. However, as soon as the new opportunity arose to get down to the world revolution again (as a result of the World War II) the soviet government body did it immediately. This is how the USSR eastern satellite block appeared, as well as such countries as communist Korea.
How was the Soviet Union built in terms of culture? As the consecutive anti-Christian state? Why? Because the Soviet Union was built as an antipode of Russia, as anti-Russia. If in Russia the state religion was Eastern Christianity, then the main goal of the soviet Elite was to destroy all the traces of Christianity.
For example, present-day soviet patriots really like the movie by Sergei Eisenstein “Alexander Nevsky” due to its Stalin-like “patriotism”. However, in the movie where the central figure is no less than the Russian saint, it is the cross that is the symbol of all the most hostile and alien to this “patriotism”. Prince Alexander Nevsky is the most Orthodox Prince St. Alexander Nevsky, canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church. According to the logic of the soviet “patriotic” movie, however, fighting against the cross is the main activity of the Saint Prince.
The ringing of church bells was forbidden in the USSR. The same applied to the calendar. Soviet calendar had the October revolution as its starting point and not the Nativity. As the soviet poet Mayakovsky was writing, ‘We are counting years again, / not considering Christ’s Birth, / we do not know the twenty seventh (1927 – I.E.), / we welcome the tenth year (i.e. the tenth year since the October Revolution – I.E.)’. The very day of the week – Sunday – was forbidden and the five-day week was introduced. And so forth.
For many decades one of the main points in the sovietology was the idea about the existence of some kind of a Homo sovieticus, i.e. soviet man. It was considered that in the Soviet Union the general life was uniformed, one and only for everybody. I would like to revise a great deal of this view. No “general life” ever existed in the soviet society. Strangely enough, sovietologists “believed” the soviet propagandists with their fake slogans, such as “people and party are the one”, “we are all soviet people”, “everyone to the virgin lands”, “everyone to the fight with the enemy”, etc.
In reality, however, the soviet society always consisted of two parts: the Elite (bureaucratic establishment, or ‘nomenclature’) and the people. In the real life these two parts almost never intertwined. Social and cultural segregation applied to all areas: education, health, life quality, access to the goods of civilization. Dostoyevsky foresaw this “separation” when he described Shigalyov’s project in his novel “Demons”. One tenth, according to the project, dominates indefinitely over the other nine tenth and absolutely never mixes with them itself.
After 1991 this firm two-part structure was not merely not overcome, but also aggravated in all post-soviet area (excluding to some extent solely Baltic countries). New post-soviet Elite in this area is the same old soviet top bureaucracy. If the “new Russian” were to be scrubbed, one would find without fail his or her nomenclature roots, nomenclature origins.
The collusion of RF, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and other Elites of “post-soviet” republics consists in uniting against the majority of their peoples, keeping and legitimizing the illegal privileges left since the soviet period.
How was this separation formed historically speaking? In the course of the October revolution it was declared that the Soviet state is the state of “workers and peasants”. Nevertheless, there was almost not a single worker or peasant in the first Soviet government.
It was also proclaimed that the Soviet government “liberates” working people. However, from the first day of the Soviet rule genocide was taking place. It can be called social genocide. Nobility, clergy, the merchants, the Cossacks, and finally the best of the peasants were sequentially exterminated. Another part of the peasants was forced to the reservations that became known as “kolkhoz”.
Thereby, new soviet Elite deliberately physically destroyed the latter, the pre-soviet one, the Elite of the Russian State, and the people left underwent the severest enslavement that Russia has never seen before throughout its whole history. That instead of the promised liberation that was never going to be carried out.
Who are the soviet kolkhoz members? They are slaves in the true sense of the word. They have no right to leave the reservation – kolkhoz. Until the 60’s of the XX century they have been held in these “reservations” and provided with no passports, without which a soviet citizen could do nothing at all. These people often received no money for their work, but instead they were given “sticks”, or workdays. Those who refused to work for free in these reservations at liberty were charged with sponging and put in jail, where they still had to work for free for the sovietdom.
Similar enslavement instead of the liberation happened with the people in Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, to let alone the Baltic countries – Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. “Liberation” is declared, while the severest enslavement, savage violence, and physical extermination of the former national elite is taking place. The most striking example would be Poland with its Katyn’.
And yet the Russian Elite was exterminated even before this. It would be wrong to say that as a result of the so-called “civil” war the “Reds” conquered the “Whites”. No, it is the International, the International of the terrorists that defeated Russia.
It can be viewed as cutting the head off the people’s body – later the same thing was happening in other “socialist” countries as well – and putting another head, soviet and nomenclature one, instead. In order to enter the soviet nomenclature, the soviet Elite was demanded to mandatorily renounce Christianity, as well as other the most essential things in the history of Russia. For the Soviet Union is the antipode of Russia, it is anti-Russia.
It is the Russian people who suffered the most from the Soviet government. Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote about this vastly and in depth.
What did Stalin do? He did not put an end to the separation of the soviet society into two unequal parts as his enemies and his defendants present it, but improved this separation. Stalin, indeed, went through the soviet elite and beated “friends” as only the “foes” were persecuted before. However he never destroyed the firm post-revolutionary separation of the soviet society into the “slaveholders” (Red Elite) and the “slaves”. Of course he placed the creators of the “hell for the others” into this same soviet inferno with the others. But this very thing allowed Stalin to “improve” the soviet system and use the new stimulus to increase its efficiency. From this time on in addition to the firm separation in two there was a tension that was always experienced by the Elite (including the fear in the face of the common fate with the fellow citizens that often was interpreted by this Elite as repressions). Therefore, movie directors – the former executors – could now find themselves in gulag doing the ruinous camp “common work” to use Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s expression. And this was happening along with the full preservation of the separation of the soviet society in two parts. Thereby, Stalin was not the destructor but the direct successor of Lenin’s work at the new stage.
Some people in today’s Russian Federation say that Stalin is already “good” for opening the churches starting with the 1943. Why was he doing it? Because during the Soviet-Nazi war of 1941-1945 Germans allowed to open the Russian churches on the territories that they already occupied in 1941. Frightened by the fact that the “invaders” open the Russian churches and the “liberators” close them Stalin started to do the same two years later. He started the severest repressions against the believers immediately after the end of the war.
But why is it even happening, this heroization of the “Great Patriotic” war? Why not the World War II? Why not the World War I? This seems strange. In all the European countries except for the former Soviet Union and now the Russian Federation the memory of World War I and the World War II is equally honored. Only here in the Russian Federation one war (and only one part of this war) distinctly towers over the other. Whether we want it or not, there is a logical and historical nonsense in it: one war, the one led by Russia, is “somebody else’s” for the current citizens of the Russian Federation, whereas the one led by the Soviet Union and not Russia is seemingly absolutely “theirs” for the same citizens.
Everything falls in its place if we suppose that today’s overwhelming propaganda of the soviet victories is only a replacement of the festivities dedicated a bit earlier to the “Great October”. Since it is considered improper to glorify the “October”, the “great victory” is the only thing that legitimizes the very existence of the soviet and post-soviet Elite. The cultivation of the new “state-constituting” myth, the myth about the “great victory”, is obvious. This is the reason why the State Duma created the Commission that impedes in all possible ways the serious and unbiased study of the World War II and its consequences. According to the already prepared bill, the researcher can be risking to find herself or himself in jail “for the distortion of history” (and it is the demythologization of the “great victory” that is understood by the “distortion”).
From the economical perspective, the soviet and post-soviet continuity has the following stages that are at the same time the stages of the establishment of the soviet and post-soviet “Elite”: 1) take the property away from its legal owners in 1917, 2) declare it the “belonging to all people” (in fact, though not legally, it belonged not to “the people” but namely to the elite), 3) make this property legally private and belonging to yourself in 1991-1993 preventing even the possibility of a fair and competitive “privatization” by those who do not belong to this “Elite”. That is to say that it was not until the 1993 that the process that started in 1917 was finally finished.
This very nomenclature minority (“post-soviet Elite”) used quite specifically its new possibilities during the European integration. In words this “Elite” often positions itself as “liberals” and advocates of the “open society”. In practice, however, that same “Elite” seeks to close this European open civil society for the absolute majority of the citizens excluding themselves. This is why such cultural and scientific interactions as student exchange programs, delegations of writers, artists, and other cultural workers are rigorously controlled by the post-soviet Elite. This is why the “delegations” coming from the Russian Federation often include the same people. It is a bit strange for the country with the population of 140 millions, but this is the fact.
This “accounting and control”, to put it in the words of Vladimir Lenin, almost total and absolutely similar to the soviet is organized in order to never allow the free competition, to never allow the civil society to come into existence in Russia. I mean the real civil society with all the socially and culturally significant groups of citizens being represented in it, and not just the nomenclature-Elite post-soviet minority.
At the same time, the substantial number from this Elite creates an extremely distorted image of the West in the homeland, widely using the possibilities of the new European openness for themselves and for the members of their families (having obtained the possibility to cross the borders without difficulty, for example).
The absolute majority of the Russian Federation inhabitants has never seen and will never see the life in other countries. They will never see how the society works in those countries. They will never see how people live there. This majority will never see how the educational system works in Europe. Or the political system. This majority is still forced to see this different life through the “others’ eyes”, just as it was during the soviet period: it is forced to listen to the post-soviet propagandists who quite often come socially from the same soviet nomenclature families. As a result, this majority receives intentionally distorted image of the West through the transmission of the distortion advantageous for the minority that transmit it causing the majority to have all sorts of “phobias” and deliberately false ideas.
The full integration with Europe (as opposed to the artificial integration of Europe with this nomenclature minority) would lead to the liquidation of the privileged civil society and would become the prerequisite for the emergence of the civil society in Russia. Since the post-soviet Elite perceives this perspective as extremely dangerous for its privileged position, it does everything to preserve for as long as possible the separation of the society in two.
In order to truly help the establishment of a new Russia and in order to overcome the sovietism the western intellectuals must understand that people from the Russian Federation they often talk to do not express the interests of the majority in Russia, they are mostly people from the nomenclature or those close to it. In my opinion, western intellectuals could open up their eyes and see that those soviet and post-soviet delegations that they receive are often the bitterest enemies of the free thought and free work, scientific as well as creative.
Even though it is more convenient for my colleagues from the West to deal with them, this attitude seems to me neither morally justified, nor even pragmatically useful. I consider it my moral obligation to draw attention to this.