Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Russians Remain Culturally Soviet and That is the Source of Their Problems, Academician Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, October 23 – The failures of Russia today are connected with the fact that everyone in it – including the authorities, the population, the church and those separate from the church – remain in a cultural sense “Soviet people” with all “the complexes” that entails, according to Academician Yury Pivovarov

            Pivovarov, director of the Moscow Institute for Scientific Information on the Social Sciences (INION), tells “Pravoslaviye i mir” that he is not talking about the soviets as a form of governance – they “never worked and did not define the essence of the Soviet order.” Instead, he is referring to something “much deeper and more vital” (

            Although communism is leaving, the academician says, “the soviet remains,” something that is “not politics, not economic and not even ideology.” It involved and involves “the rejection of all fundamental values which humanity had developed,” including religion, state and law, the family, and property.

            The Bolsheviks proclaimed this rejection and sought to impose it. They did not completely succeed, Pivovarov argues, but they affected everyone who lived under their power and continue to affect those who now live after the communist party and the Soviet Union has collapsed.

            Such soviet values as the rejection of all fundamental ideas from the past in the name of building something completely new ultimately reflected the Bolshevik rejection of original sin, the idea which underlies Christian civilization. All totalitarians reject that idea and put in its place something else.

            In the Soviet case, “the capitalists, the landowners, the priests, the white guards, the western imperialists, the Zionists, the loafers, and the criminals are guilty. Under Stalin, “even entire peoples were declared enemies.”  But by doing so, the Bolsheviks had removed from themselves “fundamental personal responsibility.” And that opened the door to horrors.

            “The western imperialists or wreckers were always guilty but never [the individual] himself,” Pivovarov writes.  “This was the foundation of force and terror” and meant that the idea that “he who is not against us is with us” was replaced by the false notion that “he who is not with us is against us.”

            “A new type of man was thus created, homo soveticus. The individual could be Russian, Uzbek, Ukrainian, Jewish or whatever but in essence this was a Soviet man … who did not know his roots and history” or did so only selectively and in a distorted manner and who “had lost his link with the religious world even if he went to church in Soviet times.”

            Pivovarov notes that he observed such people in East Germany. The GDRers, for example, were “barbarians, people without a Christian attitude to the world and without cultural-spiritual traditions” and were thus “cut off from worldwide developments in culture, science and education.

            Soviet people thus have “a utopian consciousness, an unspiritual attitude toward time” and are victims of “an absolute futurism.” That in turn leads “to a nihilistic attitude not only to the past but what is still more horrible to their own present” because it eliminates any sense of responsibility for what is going on.

            Joseph Brodsky once said that “an anthropological catastrophe took place in Russia in the 20th century,” not just in terms of the destruction of millions of lives but also and at the same time “the lowering of the quality” of human beings. Others, like Father Aleksandr Shmeman agreed noting that Soviet diplomats were not Russians “but a new” kind of man altogether.

            Tragically, that is the truth, Pivovarov says, even if it is one that “Russian Soviet people” to this day do not like to hear.  As he acknowledges, he himself “unfortunately is a Soviet man and a product of the system.” And “cowardice, an inability to keep his word, hypocrisy, the search for the guilty” in others rather than himself” all are part of this.

             Of course, the academician continues, “the Soviet man is not the final sense on the ethnic or civic Russian but rather a task with which he must deal.”  That is possible finally because “’the soviet’ is only one of the dimensions of the social and human” that has been preserved from the past into the present but “must be overcome.”

            Even in someone like Solzhenitsyn, Pivovarov says, there are “elements of the Soviet” because the great writer defined himself as “the anti-Lenin.”  That approach defines itself by its relationship to the Soviet.  What is needed, however, is “not the anti-Soviet but the non-Soviet, the [ethnic] Russian, the Orthodox, the [civic] Russian, the all-European, and the Eurasian.”

            This is possible because the Russians retained some of the past even in the worst Soviet times, being willing to declare themselves religious in the worst years of Stalin’s terror and saving the country during World War II. Such things show that sovietism was not able to entirely consume either the society or Russia itself.

            But despite this, the academician concludes, “the soviet exists [to this day] in various ways.” For example, in relations between those who have power and those who don’t and among people who might otherwise cooperate; and in the fact that a few are getting fat while the great majority are suffering. 

            “All this,” Pivovarov says, “undoubtedly is a manifestation of the Soviet complex of a lack of feeling for the misfortunes of others and a lack of understanding of one’s own sinfulness.  All this must be overcome. The Soviet must be overcome in order for Russia to recover.”

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