#31 - JRL 2009-142 - JRL Home
Date: Tue, 28 Jul 2009
From: Sergei Roy <sergeiroy@yahoo.com>
Subject: Re: response to Yanov (JRL #137)

Paternalism in Russia: Myth and Facts. Pt.2
By Sergei Roy
[former editor-in-chief of The Moscow News, is the editor of an online Russian security issues journal, guardian-psj.ru]

1. One of the most widespread, hostile myths about the Russian national ethos, a theme continually cropping up in various contexts, from hate mail to learned discourse (the two sometimes indistinguishable except for style), is this: Russians are a congenitally slavish, submissive race that will patiently endure any kind of tyranny indefinitely. In more academic terms, this feature imputed to Russians is termed paternalist stereotypes inherent in their mass consciousness. Being abject slaves by nature, they are incapable of governing themselves and need to have foreign rulers and managers to run their affairs and enlighten them in, say, European ways of life.

Of course, that is a very convenient position to take for any foreign or domestic agent wishing to so run and enlighten the Russians while enjoying their country’s vast natural resources and the slavish populations’ labor. Hence the persistence of this racist mythology or, if one chooses to be alliterative, this racist rubbish: it does very nicely as justification for interference in Russia’s affairs (one graphic example of this intended interference from the recent past will be dealt with below) and, in extreme cases, for aggression against this country. For certain sections of the domestic elite, this attitude is also a pleasant justification for placing themselves above and, in fact, outside their own people.

The Russians’ reluctance to be so enlightened or, as they prefer to see it, so subjugated is branded, somewhat paradoxically, as their imperialist tendencies, their readiness to listen to their own rulers’ “imperialist fanfare.” I say paradoxically because “imperialist slave” sounds a bit of an oxymoron to me, like an “honest politician.” This, however, does not seem to bother proponents of the mythology sketched out here. Very few things do, least of all facts and logic.

True, some notable exceptions to Russians’ general aversion to foreign subjugation must be pointed out right at the start. A special term, smerdyakovshchina, has been coined for these exceptions, after the character in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, name of Smerdyakov, who said that “it would have been great if those French had conquered us back then [in 1812 ­ SR], an intelligent nation would have conquered a very stupid one and annexed it. Things would be quite different now.” These days one can hear exact replicas of Smerdyakov’s sentiments from homegrown Nazis expressing regret that Hitler failed to conquer Russia: “We would be drinking Bavarian beer now” is the way they put it. Going up in smoke from industrial crematoria’s smokestacks somehow does not enter the Hitlerite heads of these Untermenschen.

Smerdyakovshchina is a bit of a tongue-twister, but it covers to a T the implications of the racist mythology regarding the Russian national character. A couple of linguistic points must be made here. Smerdyakov is a name that speaks for the character of its bearer, for smerd in Old Russian meant “slave.” Views similar to those of the said character are thus branded as slavish by the appellation itself. The effect is strengthened by the use of the highly derogatory suffix ­shchina (which we will have occasion to use later) and its link with the verb smerdet’ “to stink.”

We observe here the curious phenomenon of some individuals or certain elements within a nation embracing the racist mythology regarding the nation’s ethos and making a sort of philosophy of life out of their own slavishness: let us bow before a superior race, nation, or civilization in the hope that they will make us prosper and provide certain boons that we ourselves are innately incapable of producing.

That is the node at which the racist mythology and smerdyakovshchina conjoin. A smerdyakov projects his own slavishness onto the whole “stupid” nation which he believes to be incapable of attaining a state of dignified existence. The same disbelief or rejection of the nation’s potential for shaping its own destiny is rooted in the conviction that the said nation is, well, if not exactly “stupid” -- that Smerdyakovian expression is too crude for academic discourse ­ then “paternalistic,” fatally infected with slavish stereotypes, with strong vestiges of serfdom in their psyche, etc.

2. My first contact with theoretical smerdyakovshchina came rather late in life, some thirty odd years ago, in the mid and late 70s. Curiously, it came through one of my best friends of that time, Sergei S. He is long dead, so I will hide his identity behind that single initial, as he can no longer present his own view of those distant events. Sergei was the son of a former White Guards officer; he was born in France and lived some 15 years in the States before the family eventually returned to Russia. He was an historian by training and, one might say, by heredity, as his maternal grandfather was none other than Victor Chernov, one of the founders and the principal theoretician of the Party of Socialist Revolutionaries, the party that should have won the Russian revolution of 1917 but didn’t, beaten by the Bolsheviks.

With his early experience of living on the right side the Iron Curtain, Sergei held fairly dissident views and moved in dissident or near dissident circles, mostly his colleagues at the Institute for Oriental Studies where he worked, as did Dmitry Simes (his last name was then pronounced as “sim-is”), probably the most prominent surviving member of that circle, currently president of The Nixon Center and publisher of the foreign policy journal The National Interest. I mention him merely as the currently most recognizable figure; there were many others in Sergei’s vast circle of associates of the dissident persuasion.

I must now fix my own position in that context. While vigorously critical of the then regime in Russia ­ as who in the intelligentsia wasn’t? ­ I was never a dissident in the proper sense. At any rate, Sergei’s bunch never felt I was one of them (though they liked some of my biting verse against the “satraps”), and I for my part was clearly aware of the fact. The dividing line was this: I felt an aversion to their readiness to appeal at every turn to the “international community,” which in practical terms meant the foreign correspondents and foreign diplomats in Moscow, while their concern for the people they lived amongst was marginal or nonexistent ­ in those cases when their attitude toward these same people was not distinctly hostile.

That was the thorn in my friendship with Sergei, and especially his other friend Maxim K., a mathematician who is, alas, also dead (hence the initial). They expounded a view of Russian history that was deeply repulsive to me and elicited from me cries of “Smerdyakovshchina!” at those nocturnal sessions around a kitchen table that were the real focus of intellectual life in Moscow at the time.

The gist of that theory was roughly this. Russia and the Russians have never had a history in the proper sense. Instead of history, they have had an endless chain of all kinds of beastliness, blood-letting, catastrophes, and the like. The reason is that, at his very core, the Russian is a slave and so inclined to obey no one except bloody tyrants. I was particularly struck by the graphic image they borrowed, if I remember right, from the writings of Grigory Pomerants: Russians are just a lot of johnnies (“Ivan-the-Fools”) whom any tyrant can slice up any way he likes and then fry; when fried, they recognize him as their master and serve him with all their heart.

There was plenty more there, and it’s hard to recall now all the arguments then flying around. A big fault of the Russian people apparently was that from time to time it was possessed by some sort of Messianic delusions (like Slavophilia or Communism), and was therefore a menace to other nations, especially civilized ones. Because of its very nature, its slavishness, the Russian people was incapable of getting civilized on its own, incapable of embracing the universal human values of freedom and democracy, and must therefore be brought to a civilized state by outside efforts.

I must admit I had the short end of the stick in those arguments. My professional training was in theoretical linguistics, while my opponents were professional or semiprofessional historians. Besides, they walked knee-deep in samizdat and tamizdat (underground typewritten publications produced inside Russia, or banned books smuggled into the country from abroad). Names like Andrei Amalrik, Grigory Pomerants, Aleksandr Yanov, Richard Pipes, Vasily Grossman, and many others, as well as of their opponents like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or Igor Shafarevich, rolled glibly off their tongues.

They gave me some of the pertinent samizdat stuff to read, only I was too busy at the time writing my doctoral thesis in linguosemiotics to make a thorough study of it. However, that was not the main reason for my tendency to brush aside that literature. While saying a lot that was true, in many ways it appeared to me to be basically unsound, based on a certain psychoemotional attitude, one might say a phobia, rather than on an objective consideration of known facts and a consistent philosophical theory of history.

Actually, the sources of that phobia were in many cases painfully obvious. Some sections of the dissidentura were the offspring of people who had suffered from Stalinist repressions or, like Pomerants, were themselves the sufferers. Some were even rather disparagingly known as kremlevskie detki “Kremlin kids,” children of highly placed communists executed or sent to labor camps by Stalin. Naturally, they bitterly resented their plunge from an elitist way of life, well-cushioned against the drab and often half-famished existence of the “proletarian masses,” to the living standard of those same masses, or worse. A typical example is Yelena Bonner, wife, then widow of perhaps the most prominent Soviet dissident, Academician Andrei Sakharov, and a dissident in her own right: her father, a prominent Armenian communist and a secretary of the Comintern, was executed in the 1930s, and her mother arrested at the same time. Sure she had cause for resentment. Other dissidents suffered in the anti-Semitic drive mounted by Stalin in the last years of his life, or else from bytovoy, everyday, routine anti-Semitism. There were, of course, genuine seekers for social justice, outraged by the iniquities of the “Stalin personality cult,” by suppression of free thought, and the intervention of the post-Stalinist regimes in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. By a sort of tangential reaction the Russian people, who were seen as passively accepting or actively supporting the Stalinist and post-Stalinist regimes, were blamed for being “slavish.” This censure was then “theoretically” projected onto the nation’s past history.

It was this accusation of slavishness allegedly inherent in the Russian character that I rejected intellectually and found repulsive morally. The people I lived among, the people whose kids I taught, the people with whom I drank, hiked, hunted, and indulged in endless, Russian-type heart-to-heart talks, were anything but slavish or submissive. I mean, they could patiently wear a submissive exterior as a survival ruse, but essentially the Russian is an anarchist (was it accidental that the fathers of theoretical Anarchism, Bakunin and Kropotkin, were Russians?), and the state or any kind of nachal’stvo, the bosses, are his worst enemies, the more so that they are also his exploiters.

Of course, these arguments of mine were swept aside by my friends the opponents as being too subjective. Also, counterexamples were all too easy to find, like the scenes of popular grief at Stalin’s death, still fresh in many people’s memory. So the discussion went round and round, in circles, mostly shifting back to Russia’s history.

I said above that I had not been trained in history professionally. But in my younger years I had read voraciously, and much of that reading was in history. In fact, it could be safely said that a great deal of my education came from my Granny’s huge, copper-studded chest which contained, apart from heaps of novels in four languages, complete sets of Lavisse et Rambaud, also of Karamzin, Klyuchevsky, Vladimir Solovyov and, rather incongruously, Vasily Rozanov. At fourteen, I read Georgy Plekhanov’s (Bel’tov’s) K voprosu o razvitii monisticheskogo vzglyada na istoriyu (On the Development of the Monistic View of History), and I must say straight out that that Marxist work, unlike some stuff by Lenin, impressed me greatly; I still have a copy of it, where nearly every line is underscored.

So I used that armory against my opponents, insisting that their talk of the Russian people’s slavishness as the most conspicuous element of Russia’s history, or lack of history, ignored the age-old struggle of the underdogs against their oppressors and the resulting phenomenon, unknown to other nations, of Cossack hosts and other bands of rebellious peasants moving farther and farther away from the oppressive state machinery, to the sparsely, if at all populated north and east of Eurasia, with the result that a vast country emerged precisely out of that movement of rebellious masses.

This talk of class struggle as a motive force of history was naturally branded by my opponents as a Marxist invention; they themselves had left dialectical and historical materialism far behind them by that time. My plea that I was talking historical facts, not Marxist theory, was equally brushed aside: it appeared that facts were what the observer made of them ­ a sophisticated, Postmodernist view that struck my naïve self rather dumb.

Still I persisted, pointing out that a slavish people could not have risen against their rulers in three revolutions in the early two decades of the 20th century, and then fought a Civil War for more than two years. Yes, but what did all that rebellion end in, my friends retorted: in Stalin’s tyranny, perhaps the worst tyranny mankind had ever known. And it was the Russian people who either patiently endured it or were themselves cogs in the machinery of tyranny.

My rejoinder was obvious: that last argument was self-defeating; the rulers of a passive, slavish people would not need to have a huge repressive apparatus to keep the populace at bay, they would not need mass executions, labor camps, the Gulag with its millions of inmates, etc. Slaves would remain slaves without any of that awesome machinery of repression. Patient slaves?! Just talk to my mother, a woman of solid Cossack stock. In the early thirties, at the time of collectivization and resulting famine, when some Komsomol schnooks came to requisition her family’s property, she smashed in the head of one of them with a poker, ran away, swam across the fast flowing, freezing cold, autumnal Kuban, and drifted all the way to Dagestan, where she found her godmother who gave her shelter; then she found work, married my father, and thus survived. The answer to that story was, of course, all too plain: exceptions merely proved the rule.

3. So the arguments went on and on, as I am sure they erupted all the time in other, similar circles throughout the land. As I see it, the issue was resolved not in heated debates of this sort but through objective, clearly observable, and well-recorded historical development: after a few years of perestroika turmoil, which eventually stirred millions of people to political consciousness and vigorous action, the communist regime was overthrown by the fourth revolution in this country in one century (rather too many revolutions for a submissive, slavish people, wouldn’t you say?). Russia embarked on the road to market economy, freedom and democracy, thus achieving something that my erstwhile friendly opponents were sure Russians were supremely incapable of. Most importantly, this was done by the efforts of the people themselves, not through foreign intervention.

It was therefore with nothing short of amazement that I recently read an article by Aleksandr Yanov, my friends’ guru from the 1970s, in which he repeated his old view about the innate paternalist, slavish stereotypes in the Russians’ mass consciousness: “This mental inertia of serfdom is undoubtedly a terrible adversary. It can be overcome ­ or not ­ only through a fierce ideological war against the followers of the tradition of serfdom” (JRL 2009-#128). Like in the olden days, A.L.Yanov placed his hopes for winning this war on the “Russian Europeans” and foreign influences, in this case on a “Cairo” speech by the visiting US President Barack Obama (who predictably failed to come up to those expectations).

You know, reading these ancient, threadbare arguments nearly 20 years since the overthrow of communism felt a bit like seeing a ghost clanging his chains as he wanders in the dark, oblivious to all that has happened around him in all those years. I wrote a rather mildly worded response to that article (see JRL 2009 #133), in which I shot the obvious holes in Yanov’s argumentation: while stressing the role of “Russian Europeans” like Peter the Great or Catherine ditto in breaking down the “anti-European fortress” in paternalist Russia, he ignored the rebellious spirit of the Russian people, of the downtrodden masses, that drove them as far as the Pacific; he did not even mention the 1991 revolution, which put paid to all talk of their slavishness; he likewise ignored the patent distrust, rather than slavish paternalism, the Russian populace nowadays feels toward most state institutions, having been repeatedly swindled by those same institutions in the recent past.

A.L.Yanov responded to my remarks with a rather vituperative comment (JRL #137) in which he refused “to defend the main argument” of his piece from “Mr. Roy’s angry assault.” Instead, my esteemed opponent made an even angrier assault ­ not on my arguments but on my character, insisting that “Mr. Roy is wasting his literary talents, in facts made it his speciality, assailing somebody else’s work…” [grammar and spelling Yanov’s translator’s.­SR]. In his fury A.L. Yanov went as far as calling me an “ultranationalist.” To misquote Bernard Shaw, he apparently believes that his intellectual duty is done when he has called his opponent a few names. In Russian, this manner of debate is known as taking it nizhe plintusa “below the baseboard.”

That I do nothing but “snipe” at other people’s work is absolutely untrue, professor, and you know it better than most. Just one example: in 1995­2004, except for a couple of years due to ill health, I wrote a weekly essay for Moscow News under the general title “Collapse of the Colossus. Russia 1985-1991.” Rather than making a specialty of “assailing somebody else’s work,” I made a point there of avoiding any discussion of other people’s views of the period, writing strictly “from within and from below” the processes that had unfolded in Russia, putting down only what was given me through my five senses and my reason. It was those essays, written from the standpoint of a “foot soldier of democracy,” that moved someone to refer to me on the Internet, with unwarranted exaggeration, as “the grandfather of Russian liberalism” rather than an “ultranationalist.” Of course, this only shows that the essence of character does indeed reside in the eye of the beholder.

For the rest, anyone interested in my work can simply google Sergei Roy in English or Russian (I even found translations in Italian) and see for themselves. But there, I seem to be following in the dubious footsteps of Prof. Yanov, who devoted a third of his “Response to Mr. Roy” to advertising his upcoming publications. These aggressive marketing practices are just not my style, so let me return to some points raised in Yanov’s “response.”

After stating (twice) that he refuses to defend “the main argument” of his piece, he proceeds to do just that, avoiding indeed my own main arguments but “sniping” at those points where he had something to say, however untrue and irrelevant that was. In reply to my criticism that his theory of endemic paternalism in the Russian people completely fails to take into account the culture of anarchy, mutiny, peasant wars, Cossack freebooting, etc. etc., Yanov simply accuses me of looking “no farther than the Soviet textbooks read in his schooldays,” those textbooks that made such a Marxist emphasis on class struggle. Sure, it is easy to refute the views of an ignoramus whose knowledge of history is limited to Soviet textbooks.

In the above, I mentioned some of the writings that shaped my view of Russian history, all written long before those “Soviet textbooks.” I might particularly quote a thoroughly forgotten author, L. Sokolsky, who wrote this in his study “The Growth of the Middle Estate in Russia”: “the flight of the people from state authority constituted the entire content of the people’s history of Russia” (Odessa, 1907). See? It was “the entire content of the people’s history of Russia” (narodnoi istorii Rossii)” that A.L.Yanov missed in ignoring the Russian people’s anti-paternalist, rebellious spirit…

Insisting that the concept of class struggle is something peculiar to “Soviet textbooks” is very odd indeed. I heard that argument hurled at me back in the 70s, and it was easy to quote on this point an authority that was far better versed in the subject than me or my opponents. This is what Georgy Plekhanov wrote back in the 19th century: “That underlying Greek and Roman histories was class struggle… was known to Greek and Roman writers already. Read Thucydides, Xenophon, Aristotle, read Roman historians or even Titus Livy… and in each of them you will find a firm conviction that economic relations and the class struggle they engender were the basis of the inner history of the societies of those times” (G.V. Plekhanov, op.cit., translation mine. --SR). So much for those “Soviet textbooks…”

I am quite sure that all these quotes and arguments will be like water off a duck’s back for A.L.Yanov. A nation of serfs is simply incapable of class struggle, revolutions, and the like. If anything of that kind happens in harsh historical reality, so much the worse for historical reality. And in any case, these things can always be attributed to the activities of a few “Russian Europeans” (like Yeltsin, I presume?) or ever so desirable foreign agencies, while the millions of Russians whose destinies are molded by these agencies remain but patient cattle.

Lastly, we come to the most obnoxious feature of that nation of serfs: “the Russian population still readily responds to the call of pseudo-imperial fanfares,” and “every sociological survey confirms” this assertion of Yanov’s, which Roy “furiously rejects.” Indeed, I can jolly well imagine the sort of sociological survey that confirms such an assertion, with questions like, “Do you readily respond to the call of pseudo-imperial fanfares?”, to which comes a thundering response, “Yes, we do!”

In actual fact Russians, like folks everywhere, respond not to “pseudo-imperial fanfares” (incidentally, why “pseudo”? If the “fanfares” are “pseudo-imperial,” then they are not really imperial, so why bother about them?) or cunningly worded questions in polls, but to the events themselves. That was the way we here in Russia, as well as millions of people the world over, and eventually (much too late) even institutions like the BBC, recently responded to a video taken on a mobile phone by an obvious hophead of a Georgian tankman as he repeatedly fired his turret cannon at residential buildings in Tskhinval without any sign of military presence in them, madly yelling obscenities in Georgian and Russian. The massacre had to be stopped, and it was stopped by what is known as humanitarian intervention. Sure it had full support of the Russian people. This had nothing to do with “imperial fanfares,” pseudo or otherwise. If you wanted to listen to some real imperialist fanfares, you should have heard Condoleezza Rice during her visit to Georgia right on the eve of Saakashvili’s aggression, or the ravings of Saakashvili himself.

4. The conviction of the imperialist nature of Russia’s slavish population is the mainstay of the Yanov philosophy, otherwise known as yanovshchina (the term was imparted to me by the author himself), and it is worth analyzing somewhat more thoroughly.

In 1997 Aleksandr Yanov came over to Russia from the States, where he had emigrated back in the 70s. By that time I had for some years been chief editor of Moscow News; from time to time Yanov’s articles appeared in my paper, so he came to my office, introduced himself, and we had quite a few conversations. He also gave me his book that had come out a couple of years before ­ “After Yeltsin. “Weimar” Russia” (Kruk Publishers, Moscow, 1995; below, I will quote this Russian edition).

Frankly, I cannot say that that book gave me much intellectual delight. It seemed to me (a) grossly irrelevant to what was then happening in Russia, and (b) theoretically untenable, its conclusions predicated on extremely shaky and often delusive notions of what was to be done in, but mostly with, Russia.

Most people here in Russia remember the 90s with feelings akin to horror. It is now universally recognized that it was the time of bandit, or robber capitalism here. The population’s savings went up in smoke with Gaidar’s liberalization, and all the country’s assets were up for grabs in the Chubais privatization scheme. Those assets all went to criminals and the criminal coterie around the boozehound of a peasant czar which was then running the country. The economy suffered worse than in the Second World War. Wages, salaries and pensions were not paid for months, and if they were, they could not feed a kitten, let alone a family. Forty percent of the population went below the poverty line, the population was dying out at the rate of a million a year, while Berezovsky, Smolensky, Khodorkovsky, Gusinsky, and a host of others made billions out of the plunder of the land and its population. The most ruthless and avaricious of these nouveaux riches formed an oligarchy that grabbed not just the economic/financial but also the political power in the land, with the Yeltsin regime as their puppet. The statehood of Russia was being progressively eroded, with regional assemblies passing thousands of legislative acts that ran counter to the federal constitution, and one region in the south, run by Islamists and Chechen Nazis, had actually seceded and threatened to spread militant Islamism throughout the Caucasus and the Volga regions. The army, especially its officer corps, was no longer an army but a term of insult…

I could go on and on and on, but what’s the use? Like I said, we here in Russia remember it all too well, and anyone interested in those times can read about them in hundreds of books and thousands of articles. The question we should ask here is, Was A.L.Yanov interested in any of this when he came here in 1997 and before, when he was writing his book? Not on your life. There was nary a word about any of this in his writing on the then Russia. Instead, it was all about scaring his Western public with his theory of a “Weimar” Russia, of the impending victory of fascism in it.

The gist of his “Weimar Russia” theory was this. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia was in the “Weimar” period of its development, that is to say, in the same situation as Germany ­ the Weimar Republic ­ was on the eve of the coming of Hitler to power. Unless the West took certain preventive measures of the kind that had been taken with regard to Germany and Japan after World War II, a Russian Hitler would inevitably come to power. Just like Germany and Japan, Russia was incapable of working out its own forms of democracy (this inability being inherent in the slavish nature of the Russian people, see above) and therefore needed a rigid, strictly formalized external political control backed by military force. If the West wished to avoid the emergence of “imperial revanchism” in Russia and a subsequent nuclear apocalypse, it simply had to control Russia not just financially and economically (Yanov admitted that enough was being done in those areas), but also politically, or rather above all politically (his plan for such political control will be discussed later).

Now, if there were any truth in the “Weimar Russia” theory, we should have long seen fascism flourish here, as it did in Germany in 1933. Enough time has passed since Yanov formulated his concept and published it in numerous articles and that book I mentioned. We should have been having concentration camps all over the place, torch-carrying SA and SS marching about in their millions, Kristallnacht, Nacht- und Nebel atrocities, all parties banned except the National Socialists, and so on and so forth. None of this is to be observed here except in the fevered imagination of, say, Garri Kasparov, prone to yell about fascism when he is once again arrested for disorderly conduct in Moscow’s streets ­ only he yells that it English, for the benefit of foreign correspondents, which makes his (and his associates’) relevance to the Russian situation positively minuscule.

So once again we see a phobia-driven “theory” fall apart, actually flop, in the light of subsequent historical development, and there it goes into the dustbin of other similar theories. However, even at the time when I first read about this sort of historical parallels, it was easy to shoot gaping holes in them.

I found the “Weimar Russia” theory totally indefensible on at least two major counts. First, it contravened all that I personally observed in the environment with which I was in constant, close and varied contact. The specter of Russian revanchism and imperialism was as remote as the moon given the situation in which Russia’s population found itself very busy physically surviving, certainly without a thought for revenge upon anybody.

Second, there were the broader historical considerations. Unlike Germany in 1918 or 1945, Russia had not been defeated; thus the Weimar Republic and what happened to it later was totally irrelevant, particularly if we recall the actual situation in Europe after 1945.

Sure, the view is held by some that by the beginning of the 1990s Russia had indeed been defeated by the West in the Cold War. On the whole, the West seems to be quite confident that that was the case, attributing the “victory” entirely to its own efforts. However, this view is one-sided and more than questionable.

First, a victory in the Cold War, if it had indeed been won, is not nearly the same as victory in a real war, as had happened to Germany and Japan. It did not result in an occupation, at least not a military one.

Second, and most important, Russian democrats of the first wave (of which I am one, and can therefore speak about the situation “from within”) did not feel themselves defeated in any sense. On the contrary, they regarded themselves as victors and were fully justified in that: the Communist Party of the Soviet Union had been routed, the empire had disintegrated (though many, too many people now have good reason to feel sorry about it), and even the two coups, of 1991 and 1993, ended in a victory for the democrats and terminal defeat for the Soviets. The Soviets disappeared even “linguistically”: the term Soviet as the name of a political or administrative organ went out of use. No parallels at all with the Weimar Republic or Germany after 1945.

Now, I am even prepared to consider a hypothetical case: suppose Yeltsin and the ruling democrats lost the 1996 presidential election and the communist leader Zyuganov won it (there definitely were no other potential winners near the apex of political power then). That would mean the coming of “communist revanchism” of which Yanov and other authors kept warning the West. However, there were no indications at all that Zyuganov’s revanchism would be imperialist, militarist, or aggressive, in the spirit of Hitler’s post-Weimar Germany. The ideology of seizing some Lebensraum outside Russia is completely absent from, and alien to, the theoretical precepts of the Communist Party in its present shape: the idea of a world revolution, or Trotsky’s “permanent revolution,” has been dead for decades. The very notion of accepting the Lebensraum tenet as a political postulate would be judged absurd by any, even minimally significant political party in Russia, given the country’s own vast and but poorly managed spaces.

No, Yanov’s analogy with Weimar Germany does not simply limp ­ it must be dismissed prima facie, in view of the obvious disparateness of the essential characteristics of the two historical contexts.

Anyone observing Russia in the 1990s close up and from within, without phobias, jaundice, or blinkers imposed by hypothetically constructed historiosophical schemata, would see clearly that no ideology, either nationalist or communist (the latter least of all), could entice Russia’s masses into adventures in any way resembling those in which post-Weimar Germans and their Axis allies had got involved. That was a time of total “de-ideologization” in Russia; the only acceptable ideology for the absolute majority of Russians was keeping their heads above water.

Still, theories like the “Weimar Russia” concept were in use, they even seemed convincing to politicians and theoreticians of a certain stripe, those in the service of the oligarchs (like Irina Khakamada, who wrote the preface to Yanov’s book). How is that to be explained?

The answer appears to lie in the genesis of such concepts, in their origin in the polemics of the 1960s and 1970s. At times, almost textual similarities crop up: the Russians are like that, they are slaves, a bloody tyrant can always appear out of nowhere to cut them up and fry them, upon which they will rush to carry out his wishes and drown the world in blood. Sheer racist rubbish.

Especially astounding was the fact that such diagnoses and prognostications were formulated about a people that had just thrown off the yoke of the communist nomenklatura and showed no sign of gravitating toward communist ideas and ideals, even if they were now tinged with nationalist and Orthodox Christian colors, as was the case with Zyuganovites.

Exactly the opposite was taking place: willy-nilly, the people plunged head foremost into free market relations. The phenomenon of chelnoki “shuttle-peddlers” can be mentioned here as just one instance of this. Masses of people, in many cases former engineers or workers of research institutes, now earned their living by carrying bales of goods on their backs to and from neighboring countries. They did not particularly like doing so, in most cases they did not grow rich, but there was one thing one could say with complete confidence about them: “imperial revenge” as an alternative to their mode of existence did not even enter their heads.

One had a distinct impression that Yanov’s book was primarily intended for the consumption of the American reader and, above all, for the circles that shaped US foreign policy. Hence the scaremongering in a style that could not but astound anyone acquainted with the actual situation in Russia. The book abounded in hallucinatory passages like this: “Unfortunately, the Western public lives in complete ignorance. It does not even suspect that it is in a state of war and that this war is fought over control over a nuclear superpower… Russian fascism has acquired sophisticated intellectuals and ideologues, it has gathered and armed storm-trooper units” (A.L.Yanov, op.cit., pp. 14-15). Or this: “The West will have to pay for its inability to make a timely choice. Not with money, not with political efforts or intellectual mobilization, but with tens of millions of young lives” (ibid., p.16). These are not “taken out of context comments,” as Yanov complains. The whole book is written in this style, and there are plenty of even more chilling and less realistic assertions there.

While reading the beginning of the book (let us recall that that was the year 1997 already), it was hard for me to make out just who those imperial revanchists were and where were those storm-trooper detachments ready to bring their fuehrer to power. The answer came later in the book in the shape of a string of names like Barkashov, Makashov, Anpilov, Sterligov, Terekhov, and the like, all characters from the lunatic fringe that had enlivened from time to time TV newscasts but then become deader than the dodo, as a political force. It was clear as day that the Russian electorate knew the real worth of those rabble-raisers and would never, as long as it remained in its right mind, hand over power to them, while the probability of their seizing power by force was also exactly zero.

5. At this point the following question arises: What was the purpose, then, of all that scaremongering? Why should Yanov turn these hollow men, stuffed men of dwarfish stature into a geopolitical force that threatened the world with a nuclear apocalypse, with the loss of “tens of millions of young lives,” etc.?

Here we come to certain practical conclusions from the overall picture of Russia’s political life painted in Yanov’s book ­ an entirely false picture, as should be clear from the above.

It is hard to say just how sincerely Prof. Yanov believed in what he was writing, but he was quite earnest and aggressive in proposing a set of measures to avert Russia’s “imperial revanchism.” In substance, he was repeating what he had said in 1977, about the inability of Russia’s people and its political class to resolve its internal conflicts. At that time it was the contradictions between the dissident Left and the “intellectually and ethically defective New Class” (that is, the communist nomenklatura); these contradictions, to be resolved, needed the intervention of an arbiter in the shape of the “Western intellectual community” (note that the forces other than the dissidents and the nomenklatura, like the people themselves, was, as ever, completely ignored). Twenty years later Yanov merely repeated his old conviction about the impotence of the Russian people and its political class, refurbishing it in the spirit of the “Weimar situation” concept that he had since developed ­ a situation which, as he was again telling us, “had no solution on the internal political arena” (ibid., p. 16).

Well, if the situation could not be resolved through internal political processes, salvation could only come from abroad, that much was clear. Hence Yanov’s plan to set up a certain external supervisory committee whose job it would be to control the implanting of freedom and democracy in Russia, with its “age-old imperial traditions.”

“Here is the project in brief outline [Yanov wrote]. A transition period international headquarters is set up. That headquarters coordinates the efforts of the world community for modernizing Russia, representing the lobby for Russian reforms in the West and the East. Incorporating world class politicians in such a lobby would secure the influence, efficiency, and unquestionable authority of such a lobby… There are enough of them for our purposes: Yasuhiro Nakasone in Japan, Margaret Thatcher in England, Robert McNamara, D. Rockefeller (which one? ­ SR), Cyrus Vance in America, Valery Giscard d’Estaing in France, Willy Brandt in Germany, Pierre Trudeau in Canada. The levers which these people can push in their countries are inaccessible to anyone in Moscow and, most likely, are unknown to them. Originally the intention was also to create a Russian nucleus of the future headquarters, incorporating in it authoritative and unsullied men” (ibid., p.17).

This plan clearly had, as its premise, not just the belief in the inability of the Russian people to move along the path of civilization under its own steam, but a rank fear of that people as a sure source of some bloody imperialist potential. That was the root of the project in which members of a certain external headquarters, unelected by and mostly unknown to the Russian people, would take upon themselves the mission of making sure lest that people succumb to the call of imperial, revanchist, militarist, and similar lures. Should it so succumb, the headquarters would push levers “inaccessible to anyone in Moscow,” and things would go real nasty for all Russians until they bethought themselves and reverted to universal human values. Just how these things happen in actual practice, we have since seen in Serbia, Iraq, and elsewhere.

A.L. Yanov proposed this plan, in succession, to Boris Yeltsin, Vladimir Lukin (currently Russia’s ombudsman), Anatoly Sobchak (then Mayor of St. Petersburg and an influential statesman), Gorbachev’s economics advisor Stanislav Shatalin, Academician Velikhov, some other VIPs. According to Yanov, all of these individuals showed some initial enthusiasm for the plan but then grew distinctly chilly, and Mikhail Gorbachev even grumbled: “Come on, it only wanted to have some Varangians here.”

It would appear that political reason or instinct prompted these personalities that the people (not just Anpilov, Makashov, etc.) would never forgive them if they permitted Russia’s lawfully and democratically elected highest authorities to be controlled by a supervisory committee ­ a sort of external administration. Back in 1991 the Russian people had refused to accept and obey even a homegrown junta in the shape of the GKChP that had then mounted an antidemocratic coup. The arrival of a foreign GKChP would inevitably cause a political upheaval incomparably more earth-shattering than the anti-putschist movement of August 1991, that much was absolutely clear to any politician or political scientist not blinded by acute Russophobia.

However, A.L.Yanov tirelessly kept pushing his plan, which would apparently push himself to a highly prominent position on the supervisory committee he proposed. In 1997 I became a witness to yet another of his attempts. The leadership of the Moskovskie Novosti concern organized a conference where the principal figures were A.L. Yanov, representing himself, and Yeltsin’s aide Sergei Yastrzhembsky representing Russia’s ruling circles (I was there to grind my own axe, which has little to do with the present subject).

Yanov made a speech outlining his plan, which was obviously well familiar to Yastrzhembsky. The representative of the powers that be was obviously bored during that speech; having heard it out, he briefly explained to the professor why the proposed supervisory committee, far from being useful, would do untold political harm in a situation where the country was split even without such dubious ventures. An external supervisory committee like the one Yanov proposed would provoke an even deeper split between the opponents of the Yeltsin regime (let us recall that about a third of the electorate then voted communist) and those who felt ever more comfortable and affluent under it.

Yastrzhembsky’s analysis was perfectly realistic and quite correct. The country was run by a comprador regime (though Yeltsin’s aide naturally did not use any such term). Western, mostly American, advisors were cozily ensconced in all the ministries and corporations, getting enormous salaries and doing themselves proud on the side using insider information (those scandals erupted somewhat later). This situation caused ever greater resentment both in the people and a certain part of Russia’s elite. And there came Prof. Yanov proposing to replace this cozy comprador regime with an openly occupational one. Apart from its provocative effect, such a move would entail the need for the ruling elite to share power and wealth with the “Varangians,” and that in a clearly formalized manner, not just in the secret corners of the bureaucracy and business invisible to the populace. No wonder the scheme for setting up an external administration for “Weimar Russia” was rejected.

That was how Yanov’s plan for politically controlling Russia flopped in 1997, and one can be quite sure that these days no one will dare propose anything like that. In the past decade or so, the Russian people has once again proved its ability to shape its own destiny and remain a sovereign, independent player in the historical arena. This is an empirical fact, not wooly, phobia-driven speculations about the “paternalistic,” “slavish,” etc. nature of this people. My people.

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