Friday, August 14, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Future Moscow Revolutionaries Seen Using Nationalism the Way Lenin Used Marxism, Recent Russian Novels Suggest

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 14 – A close reading of serious contemporary Russian fiction, a Moscow novelist and critic says, suggests that “the main force which will contend for power in Russia” in the future will be “an organization of technocrats” who will use nationalism as a means to come power but not be guided by it any more than Lenin was by Marxism.
In an essay published in “Novaya gazeta,” Dmitry Bykov argues that serious fiction provides a better guide to where a society is headed than do the newspapers, which seldom provide a better perspective than one can gain about someone’s family life by investigating the content of its trash (
And in support of his contention, he carefully examines the following authors and their works: Denis Gutsko and his “The Little House in Armageddon,” Aleksandr Kabakov and his “The Deserter,” and Vyacheslav Rybakov and both his “Next Year in Moscow” and especially that writer’s “Our Star: the Star of Wormwood.”
According to the Bykov, these books show that “in today’s Russia there is already operating everywhere a force which in the final analysis can achieve power, but we do not see this force only because in revolution situations it is somehow better for it not to advertise itself,” as Russia’s own pre-1917 experience showed.
At that time, the revolutionaries reported in the newspapers and written up in most novels – the Socialist Revolutionaries, for example – proved incapable of taking advantage of the crisis when it occurred, unlike the Bolsheviks about whom the papers almost never wrote and whose membership consisted of people about whom only a very few novelists focused on.
Now, the situation is the same, Bykov argues. The newspapers focus groups like the Communists, the Movement Against Illegal Immigration (DPNI) and the “half-forbidden” National Bolsheviks, as do some popular novelists. But “the force which will make use of the first serious crisis of power will come not out of this political field.”
At present, Russian newspaper readers “know nothing” about such people, Bykov continues, just as Russian newspaper readers 120 years ago “knew nothing about Lenin.” But some of Russia’s most insightful novelists are portraying the milieu out of which such a powerful new force will emerge.
In the telling of these novelists, the critic suggests, “this political force must have well-extended horizontal lies, a reliable system of conspiracy, a certain selection of the simplest slogans and a minimum of moral limitations.” Further, it “must be directed to the radical modernization of the country because no other slogan now will receive genuine mass support.”
The price of their program will be “extremely high,” and the basis for it “most probably will be nationalist because however bitter this sounds, in contemporary Russia, a [nationalistic] slogan is the only one which does not appear completely compromised in the eyes of the majority” of the population.
This movement will be lead, these novels suggest by a force capable of “contending for power in Russia after the next serious cataclysm. It will most likely be an organization of technocrats with Soviet experience, who viewed the 1990s as a personal tragedy, and will be directed toward a technological breakthrough and a radical struggle with corruption.”
In the scenarios of the novels he reviews, all such forces of this kind will use nationalism, but “in reality it will mean for the organization no more than Marxism meant for Lenin.” That is, it will be for them what Marxist theory was for the Bolsheviks, “a cover for the seizure of power with a dictatorship to power.”
And at the head of this new movement will be “a leader – real or a marionette [controlled by others] – who should be either an officer with experience in Chechnya or one of the victims of Russian jurisprudence during recent years, preferably in cases connected with inter-ethnic conflicts.”
Would this technocratic authoritarian outcome be “worse for Russia” than any other? Bykov says that he does not think so, adding that he does not even think “that the Bolsheviks were the worst variant because they were finally able to realize the modernization of the country they wanted albeit at an inhuman cost.”
Indeed, some of the alternatives on offer in the critic’s opinion would be worse, including one that at least some readers are likely to view as dangerously close to the one Bykov points to: an alliance of nationalists and technocrats without a deeper purpose and thus incapable of moving Russia out of its current impasse.

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