Vienna, November 20 – Many writers have focused on the “shestidesyatniki,” the generation of the 1960s, as the chief motive force in the reform and ultimate destruction of the Soviet Union, but a more far more important role both in that process and in defining the nature of post-Soviet societies has been played by the “semidesyatniki,” the generation of the 1970s.
Indeed, Sergey Roganov argues, in an essay entitled “The Death of Communism and the Soviet Generation of the 1970s,” only by understanding the role of that cohort can we hope to understand not only what happened in Russia and the other post-Soviet countries but why (www.liberty.ru/columns/Zapiski-iz-pod-poly/Smert-kommunizma-i-sovetskoe-pokolenie-70-h).
If the nostalgia of ordinary Russians for the USSR is completely understandable – it was for many of them a period filled with stability and a source of pride – “the Soviet symbols and collections of citations of Lenin and Stalin [that can be found] in fashionable business offices” requires an explanation.
And if one considers why such people display such a combination of longing for the past with a desire to take advantage of the possibilities that today’s system offers them, then it becomes possible to understand the continuities from the 1970s to the present and the reasons behind what changes there have been in the intervening years.
According to Roganov, “communism and the Stalinist dictatorship in the USSR died in a naturally on March 5, 1953.” And seen from that perspective, he continues, it is clear that “the entire ensuing period consisted of the ‘non-existence’ of Stalinism and the natural process of the withering away of the communist dictatorship.”
“But precisely in this period of Soviet history,” he writes, “was the flowering of corruption, theft, double ideology, speculation, above all with the active but hidden participation of the party political elite” – a combination that “now can be called Soviet society of consumption and consequently its culture, Soviet post-modernism.”
That society, in large measure because of the limitations it placed on the elites it promoted, led ineluctably to the demise of the USSR and to a large extent continues to define the politics and culture of Russia and the other post-Soviet states, the Moscow commentator continues.
“More than that,” he says, “the contemporary system of values, which lies at the foundation of the contemporary thieving and pitiless market, the all-penetrating corruption, the lies, and the hypocrisy of both the powers that be and the opposition is entirely the system of the values of the generation of the 1970s.”
That should not surprise anyone given that “the former leaders of Communist and Komsomol organizations” at that time are “the very same people” who form “the contemporary Russian business and political elite” and their counterparts in what were the union and autonomous republics of the former Soviet Union.
In Roganov’s vision, “it was precisely in the 1970s that ‘double ideology’ and ‘double conscience’ dominated social consciousness.” That is, it was entirely possible to be a member of the CPSU or the Komsomol “and at the same time to make use of the services of speculators, to defend and support two sets of books and the existence of special stores” for the elite.
In the 1970s, he points out, “membership in the communist party or the Komsomol, and propinquity to the leadership of party committees not only did not interfere with theft and lies but on the contrary gave greater opportunities for the acquisition of any – and [Roganov stresses he] means any – goods and services.”
And he continues, it was “the generation of the 1970s [which] became the advance guard of ‘the struggle’ for freedom and ‘democratic values,’ but these were special values and a special understanding about democracy and values: the psychology and ideology of the Soviet consumer society, of Soviet stagnation and the post-modernist world.”
These values, with these definitions, he argues “moved the intellectuals, politicians and businessmen in 1991 and during the 1990s, not the struggle with the communist dictatorship but the struggle for the well-being” of the individuals and groups who made up the elites both before and after the collapse of the Soviet system.
But their essential role, the driving force of the peculiarly Soviet style of consumerist society, has been overshadowed in the eyes of many by the critics of the Soviet system and Stalinism, the generation of the 1960s “which did not and could not do anything so that the communist or socialist ideology would leave the scene,
Because this is the case, Roganov continues, “it is senseless to criticize the Putin period” as representing a striving after the Soviet past. Instead, Putin and the system he has put in place are entirely “representative of the generation of the 1970s,” just as its critics are the continuation of the generation of the 1960s and those who have accepted their views.
“In the consciousness of the generation [of the 1970s now in power], the system truths of the Soviet consumer peacefully co-exist: one can criticize the existing regime when he is focused on publishing or the media. And at the same time, one can comfortably meet with the powers that we, with the corrupt and use money and closeness to power for the solution of any issues.”
“The Soviet generation of the 1970s,” he suggests, “has won across the entire post-Soviet state. Thus, the issue is not how much or how little democracy there is in today’s Russia but rather that the 1970s generation does not know, indeed cannot know any other kind of freedom and democracy than what they have,” however differently others define these terms.