Monday, December 14, 2009

Window on Eurasia: ‘Chekist’ Myth about the End of USSR Threatens Russia with Collapse, Moscow Commentator Says

Paul Goble

Vienna, December 14 – The conviction in Russia’s security agencies that the USSR would never have collapsed if “the Chekists” rather than the Communists had been in power has led many of them to conclude that they can restore much of the Soviet inheritance because “power is in the hands of ‘the Chekists’” rather than in the “imitation CPSU – “United Russia.”
But according to Avtandil Tsuladze, a leading expert at Moscow’s Center of Political Conjuncture, that conviction is not only historically incorrect but threatens the country with a collapse analogous to but perhaps even more fateful than the one the Soviet Union suffered nearly two decades ago (
In an essay in today’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Tsuladze says that the “Chekists” are convinced that they would never yield power the way Gorbachev and the CPSU did and that “in the ‘chekist’ milieu, [Vladimir] Putin is positioning himself as the ‘second Andropov,’” the man many in the security agencies believe would have saved the Soviet Union had he lived.
For such people, the Moscow analyst and frequent commentator continues, the current situation in the country and government is much as it should be: “Russia is ‘the correct’ variant of the USSR. Historical justice has been restored. Power is in reliable hands. [And] the enemy is not advancing.”
“But,” Tsuladze points out, “the rules of arithmetic” make it clear that “a sum is not changed” by reordering the parts that make it up. “And the communist party and the KGB and much else [from the Soviet past] were all elements of a single Soviet project,” a project that suffered collapse.
“As a result of the inertia of social processes and for a whole number of other reasons, certain aspects of the Soviet model in an extremely impoverished form have been reestablished,” something that has happened even though Soviet leaders from Stalin on recognized that the Soviet system needed reform.
Indeed, “the necessity of reforming the system was recognized even by its chief creator – Stalin,” Tsuladze says. The XIXth Party Congress was intended to mark “the beginning of a far reaching reform of the political system.” But because of his death, “history occurred differently,” and “all the succeeding [Soviet] leaders attempted in their own way to carry out reforms.”
“The Soviet project has ended,” the Moscow commentator says, “but the de-Sovietization of society and the elites has not happened.” Consequently, there is a desire to restore the Soviet past, to come up with “a remake of the USSR,” but such efforts are “condemned to failure” just as the unreformed Soviet system was.
“Restorationists,” Tsuladze writes, “always fail because they are not able to draw the lessons from the past, they try to reproduce it,” and thus they recreate a situation which leads to “the same results,” all the more so if the conditions that led to the emergence of the system in the first place no longer exist.
The Soviet system arose under extreme conditions in which national survival was at stake, but once those conditions changed, the Soviet system could not keep up with Western countries which were able to adapt and thus was fated to fail – “the Soviet super-militarized social-political and economic systems were not suited for that.”
And those who today are “attempting to copy the Soviet model with certain modifications for the resolution of contemporary tasks standing before the country” are putting Russia on course to repeat the disasters of the past. Only by overcoming the myths of the past – particularly the Chekist ones – Tsuladze writes, will the country be able to “move forward.”
Unfortunately, he continues, the current situation is not promising in that regard. Indeed, in certain respects, it appears to be at a point resembling the one at which the Soviet system collapsed in 1991, with the economy in trouble, the leadership divided, and the population ready to find a new hero.
Drawing on the works of the anthropologist Claude Levi-Straus about the way in which passive populations can suddenly become active at a time of crisis, scapegoat an old leader, and shift their allegiance to a new one, Tsuladze draws a parallel between “the Yeltsin phenomenon” of the 1980s and now.
With Yeltsin, he points out, “mass meetings began and at a certain moment the ruling hierarchy lost control of the process. Something similar is taking place now.” People are increasingly speaking out more critically than they did, and that criticism “works to strengthen the position of [Dmitry] Medvedev.”
“But [the Russian president] is indecisive and slow and the situation is becoming sharper with each passing day.” In that situation just as 20 years ago, it is entirely possible that “a dark horse” will emerge and change the shape of the game. “If Major Dymbovsky became a sensation,” he continues, then a someone else “might blow up the entire political space.”
To date, again like in the late 1980s, the majority of the population while unhappy with the situation has not clearly “formulated its demands to the powers that be.” It has not yet decided who, drawing on Levi-Strauss again, “who is the hero and who is the anti-hero.” But that could change and change quickly.
“Just as during the period of crowth, the mythological consciousness [of the Russian people] ascribed all successes to Putin an din his person all the ruling hierarchy, in the period of decline all the problems and failures are beginning to be ascribed to him as well. The mechanism of collective irresponsibility” which had helped Putin is turning “against him.”
The time is coming when the idols “not pleasing to the gods and not able to protect ‘their people’ from disaster” will be overthrown. It has been delayed only because of “one of the consequences of ‘the epoch of nihilism’” in Russia where “the socially active part of the population does not participate in politics, and the socially passive” goes to the polls.
Such “collective irresponsibility,” Tsuladze concludes, “can have two practical consequences in politics – chaos or dictatorship. A system based on the active participation of citizens in the resolution of political questions can avoid these extremes” and escape the limitations of mythologization in history.
But the path from where Russia now is to where it must be is “not simple. Too many possibilities have been missed, too many problems have built up in the ‘glamour’ years. “ But however that may be, a settling of scores is coming, and it is one the Chekists with their myth are not in a position to block.

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