Staunton, May 26 – Many people have bemoaned the fusion of the criminal world and the Russian state since the end of the Soviet Union, but a new study points out something that should not be forgotten: the coming together of the criminal and political worlds was a hallmark of the first years of Soviet power.
In a heavily footnoted 5700-word article on the Russkaya liniya portal, historian Aleksey Teplyakov documents the explosive rise of crime at the end of the imperial period and the start of the Bolshevik one and the ways in which these two worlds fused together in the years after 1917 (rusk.ru/st.php?idar=75006).
Not only is it important to recognize this to counter those who, like Patriarch Kirill, are now saying that the Soviet system was “more Christian” than the West; but, Teplyakov says, “the complete ignoring of these lessons of the past made possible the new criminal revolution in the 1990s” with all the problems that has for Russia today.
The historian cites the conclusion of investigator P.M. Zorin that “from the first years of October, there appeared a real danger of the splicing together of the interests of the criminal world and the law enforcement organs on the basis of total theft of formally socialized economics.”
Other historians have shown that criminals were an important component of the Cheka and that “corruption ‘penetrated all levels of local power’” and formed a criminal arrangement that consisted in the mutual protection of ordinary criminals and officials in the Bolshevik party and the Soviet state.
Teplyakov says that his research has “demonstrated the inevitability of a criminal revolution in period of the sharpest social dislocations and on the objective and subject causes of high levels of criminality in government structures (party-soviet, military and law enforcement) in order to explain the sympathies” of the Soviet state for the criminal world.
It is common ground, he continues, that “during modernization of a traditional society, the level of criminality grows significantly.” Between 1900 and 1913 in Russia, property crimes doubled and crimes against people increased 2.5 times.” That development could not but interact with the rise of revolutionary forces and then the combination of the two after the revolution.
That was especially likely, Teplyakov says, because party officials adopted an amoral and completely utilitarian approach in their assessments of action. If something was good for the revolution, then it was not to be criticized, however much it violated established moral codes of behavior.
“Massive red banditism,” he points out, was welcomed because it undermined the enemies of the Bolsheviks, but it meant that criminals found it easy to cooperate with, escape punishment from, and even penetrate the Red Army, the Cheka, the militia, the revolutionary committees, rural soviets, and communist party cells.
Teplyakov offers dozens of examples of this, footnoted not only to the works of recent historians but also to contemporaries of these events. Among his most intriguing observations is that the combination of criminality and state organs “manifested itself with particular force in the [non-Russian borderlands].”
(“For the sake of objectivity,” he acknowledges, in those areas under control of anti-Bolshevik forces, “analogous processes of the criminalization of local power also occurred.”)
The combination of the criminal and political worlds not only was “’the birthmark’” of the Bolshevik state, the historian says; it contributed to the continuing tendency of Soviet officials to view ordinary criminals as “socially close” when they were dealing harshly with political ones who were viewed as truly alien.
Teplyakov’s words and the many examples of this he cites deserve to be attended to by those who believe that the explosion of criminality in Russia after 1991 was something new or that the fusion of the criminal world and the political one in that country then and afterwards is unprecedented.