Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Opposition Must Admit Most Russians Were Deceived about What 1991 Meant, Eidman Says

Paul Goble


            Staunton, August 20 – “It is time to acknowledge the responsibility of the successful minority before the 90 percent of [Russian] citizens, whose hopes for a better future were deceived” following the collapse of the Soviet system, and for that minority to make changes “in the interests of the majority which suffered these losses,” according to Igor Eidman.


            Only by doing so, he argues, can Russians who consider themselves to be democrats succeed in forming a mass opposition movement, one that will not pursue the restoration of the dictatorship of the past but pursue movement “forward to a more just and rational society which corresponds to the demands of the time and new technological and information possibilities.”


            Its “main taks will be the deprivation of the financial-bureaucratic oligarchy of power and property, the establishment of a system of exploitation of the resources of the country in the interests of the majority of the population, and the formation of all insittutions of administration on the basis of direct democracy” (


            “The chief result of the events of August 1991,” the Moscow sociologist argues, is that “the Soviet bureaucracy obtained as property the economic resources of the country which had been under its administration.”  Everything else, he says, was “secondary” to that. A small share of the population benefitted; but a far larger one suffered.


            Among the other consequences which may be called “secondary,” Eidman says, were “the disintegration of the empire, the replacement of a planned economy with a market-based one, a reduction in the standard of living of the majority of the population, a broadening of certain civic freedoms … the introduction of formal multi-party system and formally competitive elections to positions of power.”


Such an understanding of what has actually taken place in Russia has become possible because “nine anti-Soviet myths” by which the Soviet intelligentsia lived have now been shown since 1991 to be precisely that “myths” rather than a description of reality, Eidman continues.  And he considers each of them in turn.


The first myth that has been dispelled was that “the destruction of socialism will bring happiness or at the very least democracy to the peoples of the USSR.”  The three Baltic countries managed that but no one else.  Elsewhere there was established “an eastern despotism even harsher than CPSU rule or imitation democracy.”


Not surprisingly only ten percent of Russians say that they were winners from this process, and that is not even to take into consideration the irreversible losses from military conflicts both within the Russian Federation and across the former Soviet space.


The second myth now in ruins is that markets will “destroy the deficit and lead to plenty.”   Because subsidies disappeared with the planned economy, “a significant portion of society began to eat worse,” even while the more well-off portions of the population lived better than ever.


The third myth which its believers must face is the notion that “a market economy is always more effective than a socialist one.”  It can be but isn’t necessarily so.  Russia with its market economy recovered to the pre-1991 level only after 17 years and only because of rising international prices for oil and gas.


The fourth myth that has dissolved is that “private property is always better than public property.”  That too may be true in certain circumstances, but in the case of Russia, those who became the new owners were the old “medieval feudals” who behaved accordingly. This was symbolized by “the neo-Saltykhovs driving Mercedes.”


The fifth myth Eidman says has collapsed is that of “the full personal freedom under capitalism.”  That people were not free under communism is obvious, but that they could become completely free under capitalism alone is an unattainable dream. “If earlier there was one all-seeing eye of the KGB, now many companies spy on their workers.”


The sixth myth involves the idea that the collapse of the Soviet Union would result in the appearance of “an Upper Volta with rockets.”  It is true that the kind of capitalism which came to Russia was of the “wild ‘African’” kind but the presence of the rockets continued to make the country a real power even without a domestic base.


The seventh myth, Eidman says, is that the privileges of the bureaucracy under socialism would disappear under capitalism. Instead, what has happened is just the reverse with the standard of living of the top elite vastly greater than that of the senior party and state officials and even more vastly greater than ordinary Russians.


The eighth myth beloved of the Soviet intelligentsia was that the end of communism would also mean the end of those who did not work but lived on the system. In fact, if anything, their number has increased at least to judge by the constantly increasing size of the government bureaucracies.


And the ninth myth which has now dissipated is that “the West is the best friend of freedom and human rights in Russia.” Where is the West today when there are several thousand political prisoners in the post-Soviet states?  The existence of such people has not interfered with Western cooperation with the dictatorial leaders of these states.


Until recently and likely again, Putin has been treated as a full partner of the West. “Could one imagine Brezhnev in this role?  And he didn’t kill off his opponents with polonium, bomb Grozny, dissolve parliament with tanks or conducted himself as brutally as Yeltsin and Putin.”


For the capitalists in the West, none of this appears to matter as long as they can make a profit. As Eidman observes, “the West is interested above all in one right, the right of private property over the means of production and the right of its entrepreneurs to freely make money in all countries of the world. Everything else for the Western ruling elite is a smokescreen.”


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