Staunton, August 21 – Those who mourn the demise of the USSR, especially on anniversaries of the August 1991 coup, should be asking themselves, Fyodor Krasheninnikov says, why “if the USSR was such a great and happy country … how did it happen that in 1991 there turned out to be traitors or incompetents?”
If they do so, he argues, they will quickly be forced to recognize that the greatest enemy of an authoritarian state is itself and that in some future crisis, Vladimir Putin’s people however loyal they may appear to be will turn on him and his system just as readily as did the CPSU and Soviet siloviki 26 years ago (snob.ru/selected/entry/128165).
And such admirers of the Soviet system should also be asking how it happened that “the quality of human material who turned out to be at the top of the Soviet power hierarchy” was so pathetic that few if any of those who had pledged their lives to that system came to its defense at all. Instead, they allowed it to collapse without a fight.
“Not a single regional party or Komsomol worker could or more likely wanted to call into the streets soviet patriots about the existence of which for decades [Soviet leaders] had talked about from the highest tribunes.” Instead, they showed themselves wavering, indecisive, or incompetent, as did the commanders of the Soviet military and the Soviet KGB.
Indeed, Krasheninnikov continues, “when Gorbachev refused to publicly support the clutch of putschists, this led them into a funk. They didn’t have any Plan B. [And] when Marshal Yazov … found out about three accidently killed people, he personally decided to withdraw from Moscow the forces” intended to defend the Soviet system.
It is absolutely impossible to imagine Chilean General Pinochet responding in the same way to a refusal by President Allende to join the former’s putsch. For that difference, Russians should be grateful rather than appalled; but they should also reflect on what it says about the systems of rule under which they have lived.
Just think about it, he continues. “In 1987, Lenin’s cause still lived and triumphed but after only for years there wasn’t to be found anyone who would do anything for the salvation of his party and his state.”
This was truly “a unique situation in world history: the rapid collapse and disintegration of a state without foreign intervention and civil war, exclusively as a result of internal contradictions, ambitions, and the incompetence of the leadership.”
Thus, he says, “the greatest catastrophe wasn’t that the Soviet Union disappeared but that it existed and lasted as long as it did. The greatest catastrophe is that millions of people lived and died under repression and poverty for ideas and goals which in the final event no one was prepared to defend.”
At that time, “our current rulers came out against the Soviet system” which had raised them up: “the future commander of the Russian Guard stood on a tank alongside Yeltsin, and the future President Putin together with the late Sobchak opposed the putsch in St. Petersburg,” the Yekaterinburg political analyst says.
But now “aging in their completely capitalist villas, they regret not about Soviet social guarantees but about that which shouldn’t be regretted – about the imaginary geopolitical greatness, which ‘everyone feared’ because it ‘cold transform the world into nuclear ashes.”
They do not recognize that “the main enemy of any authoritarian regime is itself,” including its inability to react adequately to a changing environment, the passivity of its officials which arises because they aren’t subject to competition, and the inevitable disaster that arises when loyalty is more important than active work.
But there is a good reason why they don’t want to ask that question, Krasheninnikov says. It cuts too close to the bone. They would soon recognize that “the party apparatus of United Russia is hardly more capable than that of the CPSU” and that the governors the center imposes will not behave any differently that did “Soviet obkom secretaries or tsarist governors.”