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JRL Research & Analytical Supplement - JRL Home
RAS Issue No. 44 November 2008 JRL 2008-204
: Stephen D. Shenfield, sshenfield@verizon.net 
RAS archive: http://www.cdi.org/russia/johnson/jrl-ras.php
The Research and Analytical Supplement (RAS) to Johnson’s Russia List is produced and edited by Stephen D. Shenfield. He is the author of all parts of the content that are not attributed to any other author.


1. Introduction
2. My interview with Bugera
3. Interview: The Rarity of Love
4. Interview: The Great Bluff
5. Russia and the world financial crisis
6. Improving energy efficiency
7. Tandemocracy
8. Hostel evictions
9. The Pale of Jewish Settlement
10. Rozanov on Judaism




It was Mark Twain who first said: “The report of my death was an exaggeration.” I have often been reminded of his sardonic remark upon hearing or reading categorical assertions that “no one in the Soviet Union (or Russia or the post-Soviet states) still really believes in communism/Marxism.” Why then did I keep running into such “true believers”? There have perhaps not been very many of them, at least since Khrushchev’s time, and perhaps their numbers declined over time, but they never disappeared.

I should emphasize that I am talking not about believers in the regime (truly an extremely rare phenomenon) but about believers in the ideas to which the regime formally adhered ­ often bitterly hostile to the regime, but in the name of those ideas.

To take a very important example, people of this kind upheld the ideal of socialist internationalism in preference to the official “Soviet patriotism,” which they perceived as a form of Russian nationalism. The conditions of the 1990s led people to associate the weakening of social provision with Western influence, thereby strengthening political forces that combined socialist slogans with nationalist or even fascist appeals (the so-called “red-brown” synthesis).

And yet the socialist internationalist tendency never disappeared. Conditions may now favor its resurgence, inasmuch as recent years have seen the rise to predominance of a “traditional” right wing that combines capitalist with nationalist values. So I think it is relevant to examine the experience and ideas of a representative of this tendency.

Vladislav Bugera, Doctor of Philosophical Sciences, currently lectures at the Ufa State Oil University of Technology in Bashkortostan, although he began his intellectual and political career in Kiev during perestroika. (1) He is a prolific writer, with several books to his name (2) as well as numerous articles, reviews, interviews, etc. Hardly any of this work has been translated into other languages.

Why do I call Bugera a post-Marxist? He says that he is not a Marxist, and it is true that some aspects of his thought ­ notably, the primary emphasis that he gives to managerial power ­ are not recognizably Marxist. However, Marxism serves as his starting point and its influence on his work is clearly enormous. Thus “post-Marxist” seems reasonable to me.

I thought it might be most effective to introduce Bugera to the reader by presenting three of his interviews. I conducted the first one; the others appeared in Russian periodicals. All translations are mine.


(1) He is also deputy chairman of the Bashkir Division of the Academic Council of the Russian Academy of Sciences on the Methodology of Artificial Intelligence.

(2) In the Fight Against Bourgeois Nationalism (with Marlen Insarov, 2002); Theory and Practice of Collectivism (with M.I., 2002); The Ideology of Collectivism (with M.I., 2003); Ownership and Management (2003); The Essence of Man (Moscow: Nauka, 2005); The Social Essence and Role of Nietzsche’s Philosophy (Moscow: KomKniga, 2005) [all in Russian; where publisher not indicated, self-published].

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SS -- Vladislav, now you live and work in Ufa, but you graduated in 1993 from Kiev State University and got your doctorate in 2006 from Moscow State University. Where are you originally from? Ufa, Kiev?

VB -- I was born in Ufa in 1971, but my father was from Kiev. My mother was from a peasant family in Kursk Province.

My paternal grandfather worked as a baker in Kiev. He went through World War One and fought in the civil war as a cavalryman with Petlyura [a Ukrainian nationalist leader]. The Soviet authorities forgave him for that, but he was arrested at the end of 1937. He was incautious enough to write down his thoughts about the Holodomor (man-made famine of the early 1930s) and the Stalin regime in a diary, and then to read out what he had written to his best friend. Well, the best friend informed on him. He was shot at the beginning of 1938 on the most astonishing charge: in 1922 he had supposedly been recruited by Polish intelligence, to whom he had conveyed in 1932 information about the amount of bread produced annually at the bakery where he worked and about the moods of the workers at this bakery. As he had been a Petlyurite, he was also charged with participating in a pogrom against Jews in Berdichev.

In the 1990s my family obtained access to certain documents from my grandfather’s case. They showed that he had confessed very quickly to the main charge (under torture, evidently) but to the very end denied taking part in a pogrom. The secret police told his wife, my grandmother, that he had been sentenced to “ten years without the right of correspondence”; in 1947 she received a notice that he had died in camp from tuberculosis. Such deceptions were common practice at the time. My grandmother actively sought grandfather’s rehabilitation and succeeded toward the end of the 1950s. At the same time, by the way, her brother was serving in the secret police. I even remember meeting him, shortly before he died. I also remember his wife, Grandmother Raya.

SS -- But his superiors must have known he was related to a “spy.”

VB -- In Ukraine no one was surprised by such situations, for instance, that a Petlyurite should be related to a Chekist, husband of a Jewess. That’s the sort of political cocktail that was mixed there during the civil war.

Grandfather’s arrest was one of the heaviest blows to strike my father in his life, but it was far from the last. He lived through the Nazi occupation of Kiev together with his mother, my grandmother. My mother also lived through it with her mother, my other grandmother. She remembers the Germans very well. The neighbors denounced her mother to the Germans as a communist. She was pregnant at the time.

SS -- She was shot?

VB -- No, the Germans in her village spared her. They were not SS, just Wehrmacht, ordinary soldiers, not especially cruel unless they had orders to be.

In 1943 my father managed to join the Red Army. He was severely wounded, but continued service and was not discharged until 1950. That was quite common at the beginning of the Cold War. Then he studied in Moscow, met my mother there, and went to plow the Virgin Lands in northern Kazakhstan. After long wanderings my family finally settled down in Ufa. My father taught political economy in the same Oil Institute where I work now, except now it’s been upgraded to a university.

SS -- So you are Ukrainian on your father’s side and Russian on your mother’s.

VB ­- I’m sure that the mixing of nations makes for less sickness in our life. In the countries of which I have experience, ALL political camps are infected by xenophobia, left as well as right. Not only in Russia and Ukraine. In 2002 I won a Soros grant and was able to spend two weeks in Budapest, attending a course at the Central European University. There was an electoral struggle between the socialists and the right-wing party of Viktor Orban (prime minister of Hungary from 1998 to 2002 [SS]). Though I didn’t read Hungarian, I could see from the caricatures on placards carried by Orban’s supporters that they accused the socialists of serving the “world Jewish conspiracy.” But I heard that the socialists were spreading rumors that Orban was placing Gypsies in power, even that he himself was a Gypsy. Both sides were exploiting ethnic hatreds.

To get back to my parents, their life experience made them into convinced internationalists. Father embarked upon a deep study not only of political economy but also of Marxist philosophy. He kept a lookout for original, freethinking philosophers and economists and bought their books, building up a rich and diverse library of scholarly and artistic literature. Without his upbringing and his library I would not have become a left-wing activist or written my books and articles.

The children in my family were brought up in a multicultural spirit. From childhood we were encouraged to take an interest in Russian, Ukrainian, and Jewish literature and music. My father loved Yiddish songs and the books of Sholom Aleichem.

SS -- He knew and taught you Yiddish?

VB -- Well no, but excellent Russian translations of Sholom Aleichem were available. I do read Ukrainian fluently and speak it tolerably well, having lived for long periods in Kiev with my father.

In general, that is how I became an internationalist. From my school years, I too was interested in materialist philosophy and political economy. I read Marx and Engels for my own pleasure, not because I was forced to. Moreover, I was taught from childhood to think independently and not dogmatically.

As a result, my basic political and theoretical views began to take shape while I was still at school. I gave them clear formulation as a student. That includes my conception of computerization as a necessary precondition for a classless society, my theory of the three types of relations of management and ownership, and also certain ideas of mine in the field of dialectics that I have not so far published but that underlie my methods of investigation.

In 1988, soon after my father died, I entered the philosophy faculty of Kiev State University. Now they call it Kiev National University. I first got involved in politics in 1989. By the way, for five years I studied in the same group as Vyacheslav Kirilenko, who is now leader of the pro-presidential fraction in the Ukrainian parliament. I was against him, of course. He and his friends in the nationalist Ukrainian Students’ Union spread a rumor among the students that I was a homosexual. Even then that was the sort of method the Ukrainian “democrats” used to fight their opponents.

SS -- Did you belong to any organization at that time?

VB -- I helped to set up the Fatherland Forum. We were against the Ukrainian nationalists and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Some of us were immature internationalists like myself; others were moderate Russian nationalists or self-styled “Soviet patriots.” I left at the very start of 1991, when I saw that the organization was shifting more and more toward a more extreme, right-wing variety of Russian nationalism.

In opposing the Ukrainian nationalists I was not motivated by Russian nationalism, even in the form of “Soviet patriotism.” My goal was for the workers to forget national divisions and fight for a society without nations, states, or state borders. I already understood very well that by drawing working people into the struggle to carve up the USSR the capitalist class was smothering their class struggle and enhancing its own power over them.

Later in 1991 I joined the Union of Working People of Ukraine for Socialist Perestroika (STU). I was on its Kiev City Committee. It had links with a faction in the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine that wanted to preserve the Soviet Union.

SS ­- What was your reaction to the putsch attempt in August 1991?

VB ­- At the time I was in the process of organizing a small student group in opposition to the Ukrainian nationalists. I had already publicized it a little in the press and was hoping to register it officially as a political organization. Then suddenly I see that in Moscow a “State Committee for the State of Emergency” (GKChP) has seized power! I was afraid what might happen to my comrades and myself. I assumed that the putsch would succeed and expected the suppression of all “informal” political organizations, separatist or not. So what did I do?

In the name of my group I sent off a telegram in support of the putsch to the GKChP, with copies to the USSR and Ukrainian Supreme Soviets. Later this stupid telegram even found its way into a published collection of documents about the putsch. A couple of days later, when I saw that the putsch was failing, I sent off a second telegram condemning the coup. Well, I was young and naïve. I could think up theories, but lacked the life experience to handle real situations. I still feel ashamed when I think of those stupid telegrams.

SS ­- Still, you were afraid. Fear is a poor counselor, as they say.

VB ­- It was an irrational fear. Why would the putschists have taken notice of us? They had more important things to worry about.

After the attempted putsch I realized that trying to save the Union had become a hopeless cause. I quietly dropped out of the STU. At the beginning of 1992 I joined the Marxist Workers’ Party, where I was to remain until 1996. In July 1992 I became a member of its Council and of the editorial board of its journal. I set up a branch of the party in Ufa. With the authorization of the Council, I established contact with a Trotskyist organization abroad…

SS -- While on the subject of international contacts, perhaps you can cast some light on a rather remarkable episode. A few years ago, a group of people in Ukraine made contact with a whole series of left-wing organizations in Western countries, pretending in each case to be sympathizers of the organization concerned. They had made a careful study of the doctrine and language of each organization, so the pretence was quite effective, at least at first. After a while the Western organizations started to become suspicious. Some sent people over to investigate on the spot and the scam was exposed, but not before they had extracted a lot of financial “aid” from their “comrades” abroad.

VB ­- I very much regret to say that in the early 1990s I was on close terms with the person who later organized this scam: Oleg Vernik. He was a member of the student group I mentioned earlier. I even helped him establish foreign contacts. I started to suspect that something was amiss when lots of new left-wing groups suddenly sprouted up in Kiev, or so it appeared. Knowing the situation there, I found it strange. Where could all these new groups have come from? When I realized what exactly was going on, I felt very bad that unwittingly I had misled foreign comrades and helped him organize the scam. I made up for it by doing whatever I could to help expose him.

SS ­- What did he do when he was exposed?

VB ­- For a year or two he kept out of the limelight. But after the “Orange Revolution” he became active again with his “left-wing initiatives,” basically selling his political services to various clients for money.

SS ­- In the West, selling political services comes under the heading of Public Relations. He should set up a PR firm. But let’s return to the main line of your story. You established contact with Trotskyists abroad. Does that mean you considered yourself a Trotskyist?

VB ­- No, not really. My contacts with Trotskyists were simply a stage in my search for comrades abroad with whom I could cooperate. For one thing, I never accepted Trotsky’s theory that the Soviet Union was a “degenerated workers’ state.” That concept seemed to have nothing to do with the society in which I grew up. I always thought of the Soviet Union as a new type of exploitative class society. Over the years I broadened my contacts and found people whose thinking was closer to my own. Since 1998 I have been in touch with Italian Bordigists and other “left communists.” But I am still exploring.

SS ­- You mentioned your trip to Hungary. Have you been to any other countries outside the former Soviet Union?

VB ­- In 1993 I went to Sweden to attend a youth summer camp organized by Trotskyists of the Mandel tendency. Then in December 1994 and January 1995 I visited Spain on the invitation of a Spanish Trotskyist organization to speak about the war in Chechnya to audiences of workers and students. From Spain I had intended to go on to Bosnia, accompanying a convoy of humanitarian goods sent by the organization Workers’ Aid for Bosnia, but my friends couldn’t get all the necessary visas for me.

SS ­- How has the post-Soviet academic milieu in Russia and Ukraine reacted to your work? Despite your “extremist” views, you got the Candidate of Sciences degree, and now the Doctor of Sciences degree.

VB - Not without difficulty. At Kiev University I first presented a student dissertation on ownership and management, but the entire philosophy department refused to accept it. In the past these same people would have attacked it as anti-Marxist. Now they attacked it as anti-liberal, but the atmosphere was no less totalitarian. I eventually graduated from the university, with the help of a couple of positive reviews, after writing a new dissertation on a different topic: the social essence and role of Nietzsche’s philosophy.

This was also the topic of my thesis for the Candidate of Sciences degree. I was advised not even to try submitting it here in Ufa. Academics in a provincial city feel insecure and shy away from anything that looks unusual. In Moscow, by contrast, there are still well-established scholars who sometimes try to be tolerant and broad-minded. So I defended the thesis at Moscow University.

I returned to the theme of ownership and management in my doctoral thesis. And it was just as difficult to defend my theories on that topic in Moscow as it had been in Kiev. At Moscow University my thesis passed by a single vote, though no one was completely happy with it. I was greatly helped by positive reviews sent by two Western colleagues, Hillel Ticktin and Susan Weissman. Despite anti-Western rhetoric, the opinions of Western scholars still carry weight in Russia. I would like to take this opportunity of conveying my gratitude to Professors Ticktin and Weissman.

SS ­- What can you tell us of your future plans?

VB ­- I am working on a new book. In fact, it is almost complete. You will soon know what it is about.

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Introductory note

This interview serves as an introduction to some of Bugera’s most important ideas: his “three basic types of ownership and management” and his theory of “computerization as a precondition for a classless society.” It was conducted in January 2008 by Yelena Morgunova and appeared in “Poisk,” which calls itself “a magazine of the academic community” (see http://www.poisknews.ru/2008/01/27/ljubov_po_vertikali.html).

Interviewer’s preamble

A banal truth, it would seem: love is real only when it involves neither power nor trade. Everyone can understand this. And yet true love is so rare and so fragile… Why?

Various explanations are possible, and today we shall acquaint our readers with one of them. Many people will find the statements of philosopher Vladislav Bugera controversial. However, he deliberately aims to provoke controversy.

In his opinion, in any civilized society too small a role is played by relations of collective management, in which people coordinate their actions as equals, without any division into bosses and subordinates. Only these relations are capable of generating real friendship and real love. Even love between parents and children is real only when the relations between them contain the necessary minimum of parental power combined with the maximum of trust. Bugera considers that relations of management and ownership underlie the development of human society, from the organization of the production, distribution, and consumption of material goods to people’s psychic states, sexuality, and views on bringing up children.

YM -- Vladislav Yevgenyevich, what, in brief, is the essence of your original conception?

VB -- In the process of the production, distribution, and consumption of material goods, people enter into relations that correspond to a certain level of development of their productive forces. We have known this since Marx’s time. But, in my opinion, almost all the interconnections between people are based on relations of management, which are like cells that comprise the fabric of the living organism called “society.” The act of management is the willed transition from creating to carrying out a plan of action. It is the basis of almost all human relations, and therefore of human life. The social possibility of management is conditioned by relations of ownership, which determine who manages what, whom, and to what degree.

There exist three basic types of relations of management: individual (when the members of a group are independent of one another), authoritarian (interaction between bosses and subordinates, “vertical” coordination of actions), and collective (“horizontal” coordination of actions on the basis of equality). Corresponding to them are three similar types of relations of ownership. Diverse combinations of all these types generate a multiplicity of social systems, determining the social, political, and even spiritual development of mankind.

YM -- All this is very different from our customary conceptions of management and ownership.

VB -- Yes, in my works I put forward a new theory of management and ownership and criticize previous theories and their advocates, from Karl Marx to Norbert Wiener. My views fit into the framework of dialectical and historical materialism, although they can’t be called Marxist. You won’t find in the works of any Marxist the conception of relations of management and ownership as the substance of society, which underlies all my views on man and society.

YM -- But let’s return to the question that we posed at the beginning of our conversation. Why is love so rare and fragile in civilized society?

VB -- Civilized society ­ that is, class society ­ is based on the predominance of relations of individual and authoritarian management. Collective relations play a minor role in the system of social relations, and this explains the fact that we all observe every day: distrust, the war of all against all are much more characteristic of our life than trust and friendship. If there is little trust and friendship, if they are unstable, then there will also be little love, then it too will be fragile and transient. In a society of alienation, however, people are inclined to deceive themselves and equate love with feelings that have little in common with real love ­ feelings such as the craving for possession, jealousy, the rage of the property owner whose rights have been violated, and the appeal of forbidden fruit. Again, the theory of the three types of relations of management and ownership helps us understand how this happens.

In class society, with its predominance of relations of individual and authoritarian management, people grow accustomed from childhood onward to see others as alien to themselves, as potential competitors, as potential overlords, and at the same time as potential playthings. In the process of acculturation to such relationships, five conflicting but coexisting drives become embedded in the psyche of every civilized child. The drive to communicate with others, which is intrinsic to all people in all ages, is overlain by a striving to “keep one’s distance,” even from the people to whom one is closest, and also by a will to power, a will to submit, and a will to rebel.

Different combinations of these five drives, different degrees of their strength and of the tension between them determine the diversity of human characters and psychic pathologies of people in class society. Even the most balanced person in a civilized society is to some extent at odds with himself, albeit not to the same extent as a mentally sick person: in an alienated society, people are alienated not only from one another but also from themselves.

YM -- Does this alienation not also explain why we civilized people so often violate the very moral norms that we regard as sacred?

VB -- You are quite right. We violate our own moral norms not only when it is advantageous to us but often merely in order to taste the sweetness of “forbidden fruit” ­ either to quench our excessive desire to distance ourselves from others, or to take pleasure in power over them (or, conversely, to find pleasure in slavish submission), or, finally, to transfer our feeling of protest from really dangerous oppressors to less dangerous imaginary “enemies” (as, for instance, do people who hate their parents). The war of all against all that reigns in civilized society and the five drives that cleave our souls are constantly playing practical jokes on us ­ and we constantly overstep our moral bounds, in large matters and in small, and torment both one another and ourselves.

YM -- All world religions have tried to save people, to pull them out of this vicious circle.

VB -- Religions try to make people less aggressive to one another by introducing the concepts of “good” and “evil.” People push their natural aggression into their subconscious. This is not a solution to the problem. It is necessary to start changing people by changing social relations. Only transition to a system in which relations of collective management and collective ownership predominate will save mankind.

YM -- But, after all, this too has not yet been achieved either by revolutionaries or by peaceful socialist reformers.

VB -- There was a weighty reason for their failure. At the levels of development of the productive forces characteristic of class society from ancient times up to recently, the predominance of collective relations on the scale of mankind as a whole was unthinkable. Tasks were too complex, human activities and abilities too diverse to imagine even a group of 1,000 people collectively managing a small factory, not to mention larger collectivities. However, with the appearance of computer systems and technologies the situation has begun to change. In my books “Ownership and Management” (www.ogbus.ru/authors/Bugera/Bugera_1.pdf) and “The Essence of Man” (www.dialog21.ru/biblio/essence1.htm) and in my doctoral thesis, I show that it is already technologically possible today for millions of PC users, with the aid of certain types of computer systems, to organize gigantic electronic popular assemblies, like the old Russian veche. Such assemblies would be quite capable of taking strategic managerial decisions, competently appraising the actions of leaders, and replacing them at any time. Consequently, it is just now that the stateless communist society described by Lenin in “The State and Revolution” is becoming possible. It is not just premature to bury the communist idea: only now is the time for it at hand.

YM -- Are there civilized, smooth paths for the transition to a classless society?

VB -- I do not believe that mankind will develop smoothly and peacefully in the 21st century. Numerous wars await us ­ local but very large wars, so large and frequent that over a certain period they will be equivalent in scope to a Third World War. These wars will undoubtedly lead to big social upheavals. The war in Iraq, the class struggle in France ­ these are merely very weak portents of the great storms ahead. This prospect does not depend on whether we like it or not. It flows from the developmental tendencies of the contemporary world capitalist economy and is as inevitable as the sun setting in the west and rising in the east.

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SOURCE. First published in the weekly “Istoki” (August 9, 2006) under the title “Velikii blef XX veka?” Online at http://www.dialog21.ru/biblio/Bugera_veliky_blef_XX_veka.htm. Reproduced in translation with permission.

Introductory note

In this interview, conducted by E. Baikov, Bugera presents his views on the nature of the Soviet system and other socioeconomic formations. RAS 45 will contain a broader survey of neo-Marxist debate in post-Soviet Russia and Ukraine concerning these questions.

Interviewer’s preamble

On February 27, 2006, Vladislav Bugera defended his doctoral thesis at the Philosophy Faculty of Moscow State University. It is entitled: “Relations of Ownership and Management as Necessary Forms of Human Activity.” The meeting was a stormy one: the thesis provoked passionate disputes among a number of leading Moscow philosophers who were present. The questions that I put to Bugera are those that produced the strongest and most mixed reactions within the Moscow philosophy community.

EB ­- Vladislav Yevgenyevich, in your fundamental study “The Essence of Man,” which “Nauka” published a year ago, you assert ­ no more, no less ­ that socialism as a real phenomenon never existed in any of the countries of the so-called “socialist camp,” nor does it exist today in what remains of this camp.

VB ­- Yes, that is really so. The lie of “socialism in the USSR” was the great bluff of the 20th century.

EB ­- How do you work that out?

VB -- First of all, we have to deal with definitions. How do various types of society differ from one another? Some types can exist at various levels of development of the productive forces, others can exist at only one level ­ but intrinsic to each type is its own combination of relations of management and ownership.

There are three basic types of relations of management: relations of individual management, when the individual manages his own activity independently of other individuals (members of a group); relations of collective management, when members of a collective take joint decisions on the basis of equal rights, cooperation, and mutual aid; and relations of authoritarian management, when the members of a group are divided into bosses and subordinates, with the former manipulating the latter.

It’s the same with relations of ownership. There is individual ownership (the individual as owner of himself and of certain objects that he uses), collective ownership (the collective as single owner of all members of the group and of the objects belonging to it), and authoritarian ownership (where subordinates, their labor, and all the objects used in their labor are owned by a leader or by a group of leaders in various shares).

EB -- And how does this classification relate to the definitions of ownership generally accepted in Marxist-Leninist political economy?

VB -- It doesn’t. To be more precise, some of the terms used in Marxist-Leninist political economy are synonyms for types of ownership identified by me. Others are simply superfluous and in some cases unscientific, that is, they have no heuristic or cognitive value.

Take such concepts as private, group, and social ownership. According to my classification and terminology, private (or personal) ownership is none other than individual ownership by individual citizens. Group ownership is too diffuse a concept: it is not clear whether it refers to authoritarian ownership by a group or to collective ownership by the entire collective, by all its members on the basis of equal rights.

As for social ownership, here matters are a little more complicated. There is no connection between how Marx and Lenin define this term and how it has been used by the majority of social scientists in the Soviet and post-Soviet periods.

If we consider what revolutionary socialists originally meant by the expression “social ownership” and translate it into the terms of my classification, then it turns out that the expression means relations of collective ownership that are predominant within society taken as a whole. That is, all productive forces, all means of production belong to, are used by, and are therefore managed by all members of society on an equal basis. The necessary minimum of leaders, without whom it is simply not possible to get by, are strictly and intensively controlled by their subordinates ­ and, what is more, these leaders can be replaced at any time by decision of the collective.

From this we may conclude that real socialism, as a socioeconomic system based on the social-collective mode of management and the social type of ownership, existed, alas, neither in the USSR nor in other countries of the “socialist camp.”

EB ­ And what about the arguments of your opponents? They are, I suppose, false by definition?

VB -- These arguments, hackneyed and banal as they are, turned long ago into received truths or dogmas that it is not customary to expose to critical reflection. What do the apologists of “Soviet socialism” usually say? They simply lay down, first, that in the Soviet Union there was social, all-people’s, or socialist ownership in the form of state and kolkhoz-cooperative ownership (plus citizens’ personal property), and second, that the state was managed by the entire working people through their elected leaders.

But in fact the type of ownership that existed in the USSR and other countries is none other than authoritarian relations of ownership, with numerous groups of working people managed not by themselves but by their no less numerous little and big bosses. The chief owner in this system was the state in the person of the highest state (party and government) officials. This was the authoritarian type of management and ownership, as in any other exploitative class society.

EB -- That is, you consider that power in our former socialist state really belonged not to the working people but to authoritarian leaders who were in fact counterparts to the capitalists, and that most property belonged to them. That is, it was they who disposed of and managed property, and not the working people, the ordinary citizens of the USSR.

VB -- And that is not just my own opinion. It is simply a fact. There is really no fundamental difference between a state official, a capitalist owner, and a top manager. Each of them holds in his hands all the real levers of management, and therefore of ownership. The difference between them lies only in the share of this ownership that they possess.

EB -- And what about primitive society? What type of relations, in your view, predominated at this stage of development?

VB -- Here everything is clear. At the stage of the primitive-communal system relations of collective ownership and management predominated, because all means of production (hunting, gathering, the upbringing of children) were in the ownership of the collective, that is, of the primitive commune. Each of these communes was in itself a little society, whose members related to one another only as people. There was one small exception: the making of tools was governed by relations of individual ownership. But such relations did not predominate in the primitive collective, and so the term “primitive communism” is correct.

Later, primitive communism is replaced by primitive (military) democracy, in which the tribe undergoes continuous numerical growth and its management acquires increasingly authoritarian features. There arises the phenomenon of power concentrated in the hands of a collective of strong, armed adult men. These warriors put forward their own leaders or chiefs, so that management becomes even more authoritarian. Together with primitive society, the institution of collective ownership also decays. This gradually generates all the “delights” of class society, with its individual and authoritarian types of relations of ownership and with its authoritarian type of management of people’s joint actions ­ the state.

EB -- All the same, what type of socioeconomic formation predominated in the former USSR? Obviously, it could not have been either a slaveholding or a feudal or a capitalist system.

VB -- Regarding the term “slaveholding,” let me say right away that it has no scientific basis. The point is that slave labor as such did not predominate in any of the societies of the past ­ either in the ancient societies of the Mediterranean basin or in the ancient oriental states. Marx himself used more correct terms ­ the ancient and Asiatic modes of production and the socioeconomic formations corresponding to them.

Both these formations and feudalism are by definition pre-industrial societies, so the industrial society of the USSR cannot be assigned to any of them. What about capitalism? Given that the Soviet Union did not have capitalist firms or individual capitalists not fully and continuously subordinated to the state as the chief owner and manager, it is incorrect to call the socioeconomic system in the former USSR capitalism or state capitalism ­ although capitalism certainly did exist in certain countries of the “socialist camp” like Yugoslavia and Poland.

Probably, we must speak of some sort of new socioeconomic system and of the mode of production corresponding to it. And in fact I have identified this new type as the neo-Asiatic mode of production.

EB -- What is the essence and what are the characteristic features of this type of socioeconomic formation?

VB -- In the neo-Asiatic mode of production, the place of capitalist monopolies and other firms is taken by a single exploiter, a single countrywide monopoly that owns the entire labor power of the country’s inhabitants ­ that is, the state. There exist two main classes, which are the chief actors in the neo-Asiatic economy: the class of state bureaucrats (party, government, and economic officials ­ of various ranks, but all of them managers) and the class of state workers (rank-and-file workers, collective farmers, certain categories of employees). Between the top bureaucrats and the state workers there are a number of intermediate strata, some of which may be demarcated as a separate class ­ middle and petty officialdom (neo-Asiatic administrators).

EB -- What attitude do you take to the idea, so popular nowadays, of post-industrial society?

VB ­- A sharply negative one.

First, even in the world’s most advanced countries the new information technologies have yet to raise the productive forces to a new level of development qualitatively different from the industrial level. Just because the computer has replaced the typewriter and the internet has supplemented the library and the postal service, that does not mean that society is no longer industrial.

Second, society today in all countries is quite recognizable: it is the same monopoly capitalism that arose just over 100 years ago, later gave way in some countries to the neo-Asiatic socioeconomic formation, and now again encompasses the whole world. All its features have been known to mankind for a century, even where these old phenomena have been given new names. “Globalization,” for example. This is basically still the same imperialist division and re-division of the world that Lenin described, changed only in certain minor particulars.

So why delude people by using the term “post-industrial” to refer to a mature industrial society ­ more developed than the industrial society of a century ago but sharing the same foundations?

EB ­- My last question. How likely is the transition of mankind to socialism, with its intrinsic predominance of collective ownership and management?

VB ­- It is not simply that such a likelihood exists. In my view, this transition is a matter of historical law and inner necessity, as the alternative to it can only be a global ecological catastrophe that destroys mankind. If production is carried out above all for the sake of businessmen’s profits and bureaucrats’ careers, then the rising level of development of productive forces will inevitably and increasingly turn the earth into a waste tip. And no ecological laws or “green” movements will help. Expenditures on the environment always reduce the capitalist’s profit and threaten the bureaucrat with failure to fulfill his plan. So the owners of the productive forces will always find ways of evading even the strictest laws adopted by the least corrupt states, even if every citizen of these states actively supports the “greens.”

It’s the same as with the physical development of the individual. The transformation of the adolescent into the adult is a matter of law and inner necessity; the only alternative is for the adolescent to perish. Here lies the fundamental significance of the latest computer systems and information technologies, which are capable of helping large communities of people to manage production, intersupply, distribution, and consumption collectively ­ would working people only desire this and be determined to achieve it.

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SOURCE. Russian Analytical Digest No. 48/08 (October 17; www.res.ethz.ch/analysis/rad)

Peter Rutland (Middleton, CT) and Vladimir Popov (Moscow) provide succinct and penetrating analyses of the present and likely future impact of the world financial crisis on the Russian economy. The report also includes public opinion data and a useful selection of statistical charts and graphs.

Russia has had low domestic exposure to the crisis, as fewer than 2 percent of Russians hold shares or mortgages. This helps explain the low level of public awareness and concern: in late September a quarter of survey respondents admitted that they had not heard of a world financial crisis, while a full half had not talked about it with family, friends, or colleagues.

Russia’s international exposure, however, has been quite high. Foreigners have sold their holdings in Russia to the tune of $74 billion. Between May and October Russian stocks lost two thirds of their value. (1) Although there are other reasons (such as the war in Georgia and the fight for control over TNK-BP), the major factor here has been the plunging prices of export commodities, with oil falling from a peak of $147 per barrel in July to well under $100. (2)

In mid-September the Central Bank and the finance ministry assembled a rescue package of $130 billion (3 trillion rubles, or about 10 percent of GDP), to be distributed as loans to banks and companies through three large banks (Sberbank, VTB, VEB). Two banks have gone under so far.

The size of the bailout seems modest by comparison with Europe and the US. Moreover, the impact of the crisis on Russia is cushioned by the large financial reserves accumulated over the past decade. The foreign currency reserves of the Central Bank finally peaked in July at $592 billion and in October still stood at $531 billion. In fact, Russia has been able to use its relatively strong financial position to protect and even strengthen its international position in Europe despite the imbroglio over Georgia ­ most dramatically in its rescue of the Icelandic banks.

Popov’s title speaks for itself: “After ten years of growth, the Russian economy may be losing steam.” The crucial test will be how well Russia adjusts to the negative shift in its terms of trade. Some of the investments planned for the oil sector may no longer be profitable at the lower oil prices. Improving the efficiency of energy use now becomes more important in order to meet domestic demand while maintaining or increasing oil and gas exports (see following item).

Popov estimates that Russia has a little over two years to adjust to the terms-of-trade shock by devaluing the ruble and restructuring the economy. He fears that precisely because Russia has such substantial financial reserves a sense of urgency may be lacking, and the necessary action may be delayed until it is too late ­ that is, until the funds required for investment in non-raw material sectors are no longer available. Judging from past experience, such fears seem well justified.


(1) According to the RTS index in dollar terms. Figures quoted are, of course, already out of date. Popov’s analysis seems to be somewhat more recent than Rutland’s.

(2) Metal prices have also fallen sharply, especially copper and nickel.

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SOURCE. Russian Analytical Digest No. 46/08 (September 25; www.res.ethz.ch/analysis/rad)

In formal terms, the Russian government now assigns high priority to improving the efficiency of energy use ­ not out of concern for global warming, to be sure, but for economic reasons (see previous item). The “Energy Strategy for 2020,” adopted in 2003, calls for saving 40 ­ 45 percent of current energy consumption. PM Viktor Zubkov has even declared 2008 the Year of Energy Efficiency and Innovation.

It is less clear how much real change there has yet been in the long-established habit of paying little attention to the issue in practice. In his survey article Vyacheslav Kulagin describes a range of measures at national and regional levels, but concludes that economic growth and energy consumption are “not yet decoupled” while the use of renewable energy resources remains negligible. (1)

Energy use is marked by extremely wasteful practices in households, in industry, and in the process of energy generation itself (e.g., gas flaring, pipeline leaks). It has been estimated that the heat lost through windows alone is equivalent to the total energy output of Russia’s nuclear power plants. Outdated equipment accounts for much excessive energy use.

A large part of the problem is the low prices that industrial as well as residential consumers pay for energy, especially gas. It is planned to raise electricity and gas prices.

To put things in context, it is necessary to make international comparisons of the energy intensity and carbon intensity of national economies. The report contains useful charts for this purpose. It is also necessary to bear in mind that the high energy intensity of Russia’s GDP ­ 130 percent above the average world level (2) ­ is not the result solely of waste and inefficiency. Allowance must be made for geography and for the cold climate. A modest decline in energy intensity over the last decade reflects change in the structure of the economy away from the most energy-intensive sectors.

It also bears emphasis that Russia’s contribution to global warming (3) is dwarfed by that of China and the United States (in 2004: Russia ­ 5 percent of global CO2 emissions, China ­ 17 percent, US ­ 21 percent). In per capita terms, of course, China does not look so bad, but the US is still almost twice as bad as Russia (20.6 metric tons pc as against 10.6).

There is little difference between Russia and major Western countries in carbon-intensity of energy use (kt CO2 per kt oil equivalent in 2004: US 2.6, Britain 2.5, Russia 2.4, Germany 2.3). And in fact Russia derives a somewhat higher (though still very small) proportion of its energy from renewable resources than Western countries: Russia ­ 2.4 percent, US ­ 1.5, Germany ­ 1.3, Britain ­ 0.3. This is because hydro is also a renewable energy, not only solar, wind, tidal, geothermal, etc.

Only when economic efficiency is brought into the picture does Russia’s relatively poor performance show up. Thus, carbon intensity of economic growth in 2004 (kt CO2 per million US $ at 2000-PPP [purchasing power parity]) was 1.17 for Russia and Ukraine, 0.56 for the US, 0.38 for Germany, 0.34 for Britain. In other words, Russia is far from the worst culprit in heating up the globe but it derives much less benefit than Western countries from doing so.


(1) The report also includes shorter pieces by Andreas Goldthau (Budapest) on further steps needed to raise energy efficiency and by Peter Richards (Vienna) on what Russia can learn from European practice.

(2) The figure is roughly the same for the former Soviet Union as a whole. Apparently, Ukraine does slightly better than Russia (though probably not once allowance is made for the warmer climate) while Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan do even worse.

(3) By this I mean through activity directly entailing the emission of greenhouse gases ­ i.e., not counting such phenomena as methane emission from peat swamps.

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SOURCE. How Russia Works: An Assessment of the Medvedev ­ Putin System. Russian Analytical Digest No. 49/08 (November 6; www.res.ethz.ch/analysis/rad)

The word “tandemocracy” is derived not from “democracy” (as I at first thought) but from “tandem” (as in a bicycle for two). Andrei Ryabov of the Gorbachev Foundation explains that this is the term of choice among Russian political scientists for the current power-sharing arrangement between Putin and Medvedev.

This arrangement (is it really a “system”?) is based on a personal understanding between Medvedev and Putin. Its exact terms are not publicly known, generating much uncertainty regarding the distribution of power between the president and the prime minister. (1) In Ryabov’s opinion, what exists is a new version of the personalistic regime installed by Putin, although Medvedev shows signs of wanting to move toward institutionalization and the rule of law. Despite the constitutional right of the president to dismiss the prime minister, Putin appears to remain the more influential figure.

Putin and Medvedev continue to cooperate closely, and there have been very few instances of open disagreement between them. One significant instance came at the end of July, when Medvedev disassociated himself from sharp criticism that Putin had leveled at the Mechel metals company. It seems that Medvedev is trying to create his own agenda, e.g. through his anti-corruption campaign.

Many scenarios have been thought up for how the tandemocracy may develop over time. Will Putin retire in a few years’ time, (2) or will he return to the presidency? Some observers even think that Russia may switch from a presidential to a parliamentary regime, with the prime minister acquiring constitutional primacy. The long and short of it is that no one knows.

Robert Orttung discusses the challenges that the economic crisis poses to the political system, which remains closed to effective interaction with broad social forces. Nevertheless, polls suggest that public opinion rates the work of the Putin ­ Medvedev duo quite highly (60 ­ 85 percent positive, 15 ­ 30 percent negative).

The report also contains graphs showing results of surveys of public preferences for political and economic system over the last ten years or so. (3) Respondents are offered three choices of political system: the Soviet system, democracy on the Western model, and “the present system” (nature undefined).

In November 2007 (the most recent date for which data are shown), 35 percent opted for the Soviet system, 19 percent for Western democracy, and 27 percent for the present system, leaving 7 percent who chose some other system and 12 percent who didn’t know. Though still the most popular, support for the Soviet system has been falling after peaking at almost 50 percent in early 2003, with a concomitant rise in support for the present system.

When it comes to the economic system, respondents are (absurdly, in my opinion) offered only two choices: “planned and state redistributive economy” (4) and “private property and market economy.” In October 2007, 53 percent preferred a planned state economy and 29 percent a private market economy, with 17 percent don’t knows. It is important to note that support for the Soviet economic system is much higher than support for the Soviet political system: evidently there is a large constituency that wants the former without the latter.


(1) According to polls of the Levada Center, the proportion of respondents believing that power is equally divided between the two men has fluctuated between 40 and 50 percent. On September 19, 28 percent thought that Putin was in charge, 16 percent Medvedev.

(2) But formal retirement need not entail loss of real power, as the example of Deng Xiaoping in China shows.

(3) The Levada Center has been monitoring these preferences at quarterly intervals since 1996/97.

(4) How many respondents really understand technical terms of this kind?

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SOURCE. My translation of an e-mail dated June 25, 2008 from human rights activists in Moscow

According to a court ruling, a family (two parents and two young children) were to be evicted today at about 9.30 am from the hostel at 19 Yasny Proyezd.

A crowd gathered on the street outside: hostel residents, a representative of the Moscow ombudsman for children’s rights, supporters of the Union of Communist Youth and of the Revolutionary Workers’ Party, people from the media.

About 10 am the court bailiffs arrived at the hostel building.

Despite pressure and threats from the organization behind the proceedings, the Administration of the Federal Penitentiary Service (UFSIN), the court bailiffs left the hostel building at about 11 am. They were followed by three minibuses in which sat people in plainclothes (according to unofficial information ­ units of UFSIN special forces). Everyone else remained in place.

Many hostel residents have already been repeatedly and illegally detained and evicted before today. Many cases are also known of residents being beaten up and subjected to night interrogations.

Background to the events

The hostel belongs to the Moscow Garment Production Association (MPShO) “Smena.” In 1994 it was illegally privatized. In August 2004, after a protest from the Procuracy, it was returned to state ownership. But in November 2004 the hostel was transferred to the Chief Penitentiary Administration (GUIN) and its officers began to move in.

First they started to chase out the 16 refugee families from Baku and Sukhumi, whom the Moscow authorities had invited back in 1993. Then they put pressure on 132 Moscow families, many of which had been living in the hostel since 1979. They illegally imposed a “regime” with a special forces post and a pass system. The residents were subjected to repressions, and threats were made like: “I’ll sell the building” and “We’ve prepared a separate cell for the activists.”

After the Higher Arbitration Court ruled in January 2006 that the transfer of the building of the hostel formerly belonging to “Smena” to federal ownership (that is, to place it at the disposal of GUIN) was illegal, it seemed that the residents could breathe freely. Especially when in March and June 2006 the Moscow City Court overturned the decision of the Babushkinsky District Court to evict the refugees.

However, the new leadership of the Moscow jailers is clearly not ready to give up any of the old claims. They do not tire of repeating that the old leadership of the Moscow GUIN (Zlodeyev) (1) showed weakness, but they will get hold of the entire building. The jailers have started to evict the refugees from Baku together with their children. The court bailiffs arrived without court rulings or authorization and threatened families with eviction.


(1) The man’s name actually means “evildoer”!

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The Pale of Jewish Settlement, or Pale of Settlement for short, (1) was the zone on the western edge of Russia to which the great majority of the empire’s Jews were legally confined in the 19th and early 20th century. More broadly, it might be regarded as a legal and administrative mechanism for controlling the residence, movement, and activity of Jews in Russia.

The most informative sources I have found on the workings of the Pale are two reports prepared for the Board of Deputies of British Jews by the Anglo-Jewish journalist and historian Lucien Wolf (1857 ­ 1930) and published in London in 1912. (2) This account is based on these reports.

Strictly speaking, the Pale comprised 15 Russian provinces (gubernii), stretching from Vilna (Lithuania) in the north through Belorussia and west-central Ukraine to Bessarabia in the south (roughly corresponding to present-day Moldova). In ordinary parlance, the Pale also included the 10 Polish provinces of the empire, although these were subject to a different and less restrictive legal regime.

However, certain cities in the provinces of the Pale were excluded from the Pale even though their hinterland remained within the Pale. The most important case was Kiev. Others were Yalta and Sevastopol in the Crimea. In addition, at certain periods a strip 50 versts wide along Russia’s western border was barred to Jewish settlement (a verst is about a kilometer).

The Jewish population of Russia in 1912 was in the region of 6 ­ 7 million (somewhat over 4 percent of the total population). About 95 percent of Jews were confined to the Pale. They could not leave the Pale even for a short trip. Thus, Jewish students were unable to join school excursions to places outside the Pale.

Moreover, even within the Pale Jews were not free to choose their place of residence. Most were restricted to some 200 towns and townlets (shtetls). Only a few were permitted to reside in the countryside, and the May Laws of 1882 prohibited Jews from buying, renting or managing rural land, even for cemeteries.

The regulations governing the rights of Jews were numerous, often vague, and often contradictory, giving local authorities and police ample scope for arbitrary interpretation ­ and therefore for extracting bribes. Thus, “townlets” were often reclassified as “villages” with a view to expelling or fleecing their Jewish residents. Even a brief absence, for any purpose, might entail loss of the right to reside in a place. Thus, a young woman who married a man in another village but soon found herself widowed or divorced could not return to her parental home.

The confinement of a large population to small urban areas and the restrictions on their livelihood led to growing pauperization. All measures aimed at improving economic conditions were prevented. One avowed aim was to encourage emigration ­ and, indeed, by 1912 one and a half million had emigrated to the US, Britain, Argentina, Palestine, and other countries. Pobedonostsev’s formula for getting rid of the Jews was that one third would emigrate, one third convert, and one third perish.

Alexander II gave certain classes of Jews the right to reside outside the Pale:

-- discharged soldiers

-- students and graduates of universities

-- merchants of the First Guild

-- skilled artisans engaged in certain crafts

-- prostitutes

Membership of the last of these classes could be feigned. It was not uncommon for a respectable young woman to “take the yellow ticket” (i.e., pretend to be a prostitute) in order to attend lectures at a university outside the Pale on an unofficial basis. (Women were not allowed to register officially as students.) She was at constant risk of arrest and deportation should the police discover that she was not prostituting herself.

Later the definitions of these classes were narrowed. It was laid down that a soldier had to have served before 1874 to be eligible. Graduates of foreign universities were excluded. (3) Many groups of artisans were deprived of their initial eligibility (butchers, piano tuners, galosh menders, compositors, gardeners, stonemasons, plasterers, carpenters, etc.).

The right to reside outside the Pale did not mean the right to reside anywhere in Russia. At various times certain regions (e.g., Siberia, (4) parts of the Caucasus) were barred to all Jews. Jews were forbidden access to health spas. A graduate had to live in the city where he had studied, and also work in the field of his studies. An artisan who fell sick or retired stood to lose his right of residence, and his children lost theirs on coming of age (unless they could establish an independent right of residence).

The right of residence could also be revoked for “political unreliability.” The Jews were considered responsible for all opposition to the government. This helps explains the otherwise slightly puzzling warning that the governor of Nizhny Novgorod gave to the local rabbi: for each “offensive article” appearing in “Rech” (newspaper of the Constitutional Democratic Party) he would expel 50 Jews.

Many Jews with doubtful rights of residence lived in constant fear of an “oblava” (police raid or roundup). Raids took place in the middle of the night or at the crack of dawn (5 ­ 6 am):

“A posse of policemen force their way with tremendous noise into a number of Jewish dwellings, waken the sleepers in the roughest manner [and] demand their domiciliary permits. Whoever cannot there and then establish his right documentarily is dragged off to the police station with dozens of other victims, marched along the streets like a gang of convicts to the accompaniment of the policemen’s shouts and the mockery of the mob. A few days later some are freed, others punished.”

The police might also arrest “persons of Jewish physiognomy” on the street and detain them while investigating their rights of residence.

A sudden crackdown might send whole communities, including children and the infirm elderly, onto the road. Thus, 5,000 Jews were expelled from the Baltz district of Bessarabia in 1887, 10,000 from Moscow in 1891, up to 5,000 from Kiev in 1909­1910. (5)

All legal restrictions on Jewish residence were abolished by the revolution of February 1917. In practice the Pale had already collapsed in 1914­15, when Jews (suspected at that time of pro-German sympathies) were forced to evacuate the border region or fled east before the German military advance. My grandmother and her family were among them.

The Pale of Settlement was the key to the whole system of anti-Jewish discrimination in tsarist Russia, which extended to education, employment, army service, participation in local government, and the right to state protection from violence. Nevertheless, the most oppressive thing was not specific disabilities but the insult to human dignity and sense of stigma from being regarded as dirty, disgusting, dangerous, and sinister beings. Here lies the main reason why so many Jews actively supported the Bolshevik regime, perhaps making the crucial difference in its survival and consolidation.

There was, perhaps, another tragic consequence. Although Herzl was from Vienna and the events that prompted him to write “Der Judenstaat” took place in France (the Dreyfus case), it was among Russian Jews that Zionism first won support on a large scale. It was Russian Jews who, pausing and turning their heads to spit on Russian soil as they crossed the frontier, laid the foundation for the Zionist colonization of Palestine (the First Aliya). In numerous respects the Pale of Jewish Settlement prefigured the Pale of Palestinian Settlement created by the Israeli successors to those pioneers. (6) I for one am unable to see this as pure coincidence.


(1) In Russian: cherta (evreiskoi) osedlosti.

(2) Titles: “The Persecution of the Jews in Russia” and “The Legal Sufferings of the Jews in Russia.” Both reports were published by T. Fisher Unwin and are stored in the London Metropolitan Archives (catalogue refs. LMA/ACC/3121/G/06/003 and 004). They can be accessed online by a search at http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk

Further insight is to be obtained from the classical Yiddish writers and from the scholarly study of Hans Rogger, “Jewish Policies and Right-Wing Politics in Imperial Russia” (Macmillan, 1986).

(3) Many Jews studied abroad to evade the numerous bars to Jews entering educational institutions in Russia.

(4) A Jew could be exiled to Siberia, but had to leave Siberia on completing his term of exile.

(5) Sholem Aleichem’s “Tevye the Dairyman” ends with the hero being expelled from his native village together with all the other Jews in the locality (Schocken Books, 1987, pp. 116 -- 31).

(6) For the ghettoization of Palestinians in the West Bank, see the detailed information and maps at http://www.stopthewall.org. For the ghettoization of Palestinian citizens of Israel, see Susan Nathan, The Other Side of Israel: My Journey Across the Jewish/Arab Divide (Doubleday, 2005).

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SOURCES. V.V. Rozanov: Pro et contra. Antologiia (St. Petersburg: Russkii Khristianskii gumanitarnyi institut, 1995); A.V. Vodolagin, Voprosy filosofii, 2006, no. 10; www.isfp.co.uk/russian_thinkers/vasily_rozanov.html

Among the places where we come across the name of the writer Vasily Rozanov (1856 ­ 1919) is the testimony of Yevsei Gopstein, a Sevastopol Jew who survived the Judeocide in hiding with neighbors. (1) From the son of the family giving him refuge, who is employed at the Nazi-controlled newspaper Golos Kryma, he learns that in the office of the assistant director there sits a young lady whose job is to copy out “anti-Semitic passages from Dostoevsky’s diaries [and] from the pages of Suvorin, Rozanov, Shmakov.”

And yet for most of his career Rozanov was a fervent admirer of Judaism, which ­ alongside the beliefs of the Ancient Egyptians ­ served as one of his main sources of inspiration in his efforts to reform Christianity.

Rozanov belonged to a circle of “Silver Age” religious thinkers who sought to modernize and rejuvenate Orthodox Christianity and bridge the isolated worlds of the church and the secular (in many cases anti-religious) intelligentsia. As outlets for their ideas they established the “religious-philosophical meetings” (permitted for a time by the state and church authorities, succeeded after 1905 by the Religious-Philosophical Society) and the journal Novyi put’ (New Path). The reformers were diverse in their ideas, though most church hierarchs regarded them all as heretics. Some theological students, priests, and even senior churchmen sympathized with them, but as a result got into trouble and tended to end up outside the church.

Words like “eccentric” and “nonconformist” hardly suffice to convey the strangeness of Rozanov’s character. Zinaida Gippius, another prominent “Silver Age” writer, argues in her essay about him (2) that though he lived among human beings he was not human himself but a unique phenomenon living by its own laws, so he should not be judged by human standards. (3) This was certainly how he viewed himself. He could not be blamed for anything because God had made him the way he was. Everything was permitted to him. Thus he saw no reason why he should not simultaneously publish two articles in different journals on the same topic but expressing opposed viewpoints. It’s no wonder that he acquired a scandalous reputation.

A major factor behind his scandalous reputation was his open interest in sex. Rejecting the dichotomy between body and spirit, he believed that religion should celebrate and value sex, reproduction, and family life. He rejected asceticism and monasticism. He even wrote sympathetically about homosexuals (“People of the Moonlight”). These attitudes are now commonplace, but a century ago respectable people were shocked by them. They viewed his works as dirty. But, as Gippius says, his aim was to combat the idea that sex is dirty.

Here too is the main source of his attraction to the Jews (and Ancient Egyptians). He sees Judaism as a “warm” religion; Christianity, by contrast, is “cold.” Judaism has no monastic tradition and does not deny the flesh. He sees the warmth of Judaism expressed in its rituals. One locus of ritual appears to hold a special fascination for him ­ the mikveh, the pool in which the women of Orthodox Jewish communities are immersed to “purify” them at the end of menstruation. His opponents mock him for “wallowing in the mikveh.”

This does not mean that Rozanov knew or understood much about Judaism. He writes at inordinate length, but his writings always “talk out” chance impressions and his emotional reactions to them. There is no attempt at dispassionate observation or logical reasoning; he considers himself incapable of such things. Ultimately his sole theme is his own feelings. His ideas have a measure of objective validity only insofar as they embody direct personal experience.

Rozanov alternately loves the Jews and hates the Jews because he alternately loves and hates Jesus. He loves or he hates, never anything in between. When he hates Jesus he loves the Jews, but then suddenly he recalls his love for Jesus and then he hates the Jews because the Jews hate Jesus. (4)

The 1911 a Jew named Beilis was accused of the kidnap and ritual murder of a Christian boy to extract his blood for making matzoh. This was a cause celebre for progressive opinion in Russia; Beilis was acquitted. However, the Beilis affair revived Rozanov’s hatred for the Jews. He wrote two articles against Beilis for the “pogromist” journal Zemshchina, followed in 1914 by a book entitled “The Olfactory and Tactile Relationship of Jews to Blood.” Here he espouses the idea that Jews are bloodthirsty because they have cells in their bodies passed down since ancient times when human sacrifice was practiced. These writings prompted Gippius and other liberal Christians previously friendly with Rozanov to try to get him expelled from the Religious-Philosophical Society.

Rozanov’s belief that Jews are attracted to blood reveals his ignorance of Judaism. Abhorrence of blood is deeply embedded in Judaism. The ritual slaughter of animals is designed to ensure that all blood is drained away and none left to be ingested with meat, while the mikveh (following isolation of the wife from the husband during her menstruation) ensures that the Jewish male (5) has no contact with blood during coitus. For all his fascination with the mikveh, Rozanov had never understood what it was for.

In fact, Rozanov himself was drawn to the idea of drinking human blood. He attended a ritual invented by “decadent” friends who hired a young girl whose finger was pricked so that she could let a drop of her blood fall into the wine glass of each celebrant.

On his deathbed in the Sergiev Posad Monastery, where he took refuge after the revolution, Rozanov reaffirmed his love for the Jews, asked their forgiveness, and instructed that all his anti-Semitic writings should be destroyed. Unfortunately his instructions were not obeyed, But as Omar Khayyam says in his Rubaiyat:

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.


(1) Joshua Rubenstein and Ilya Altman, eds. The Unknown Black Book: The Holocaust in the German-Occupied Soviet Territories (Indiana UP, 2008), pp. 357-8.

I am one of those who avoid the word “holocaust,” which comes from the Greek for a sacrificial burnt offering and has unacceptable religious implications.

(2) In the “Pro et contra” volume.

(3) She repeatedly says he was not human, but never says exactly what sort of phenomenon she thinks he was. A “spiritual” one, to be sure. Perhaps even in some sense divine?

(4) It is true that Jews have often hated Jesus, but that is hardly essential to Judaism. When I went to cheder, we were taught that although Jesus was not divine he was a great teacher. There has been a positive evolution in Jewish attitudes to Christianity as well as in Christian attitudes to Judaism (at least in the West, which for this purpose does not include Israel).

(5) To the modern feminist sensibility the idea of post-menstrual purification is an insult to women. This (plus concern for hygiene in the mikveh) is why the practice was abandoned by Conservative as well as Reform Judaism, which was already making inroads in Russia in the late tsarist period.

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