Monday, November 28, 2016

Why Don’t Russians Defend the Incumbent Regime in Revolutionary Times?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 28 – It must weigh on the minds of all Russian rulers, including Vladimir Putin, that however much support their subjects give them when those in power are not challenged by revolutionary turmoil, almost none are willing to come out in defense of the system they swore their loyalty to up to that point.

            Many people remain shocked that so few Soviet citizens came out in defense of the USSR when it was falling apart in 1991, and some are surprised that so few Russians have been willing to defend democracy when it was challenged by Boris Yeltsin in 1993 and 1996 and then destroyed by Vladimir Putin in the years since 2000.

            Some have suggested that this is because Russians en masse have shifted from one position to another overnight, thus opening the way for a revolution, but others have argued that this is because the Russian people historically have viewed their rulers as almost a race apart and are not as loyal to any one system as some of their rulers and others might think.

            Obviously, finding the answer to such questions is anything but easy, especially given that in almost all the other revolutions in other countries in modern times, the defenders of the ancien regime have come out in force to try to save it, often fighting for many years and taking great losses in an attempt to restore that system.

            Some may argue that the anti-Bolshevik White Movement was something like that, but there are problems with that position. In reality, very few of the White leaders let alone their mass followers were committed to monarchism. Instead, almost all of them supported a constituent assembly that would decide the country’s future.

            The only thing that almost all the White leaders did support was the maintenance or in their view revival of a great Russian one and indivisible, a position that attracted some ethnic Russian support but that had the effect of alienating most non-Russians and of allowing the Bolsheviks duplicitously to exploit the nationality question against the Whites.

            Now, intriguingly, two analysts have re-opened this broader question by discussing why so few Russians who had sworn their loyalty to the tsarist system were prepared to defend it when push came to shove and even why sofew have defended other Russian political systems under challenge.

            Speaking to a conference at Petrozavodsk State University at the end of last week, Anatoly Stepanov, the editor of Russkaya Narodnaya Liniya, pointedly asked: “where were the monarchists” when elites liberal and nationalist forced Nicholas II to abdicate and ended the tsarist regime? (

            Having discussed the role monarchist movements like the Black Hundreds played in suppressing the revolution of 1905-07, Stepanov blamed the failure of the monarchists to play a similar role at the time of the February 1917 revolution not only on the ambitions of the various leaders of this group but also on the failure of the state to exploit them.

            Some of the monarchist leaders, he continued, “for the sake of their own ambitions destroyed the unity of those on the right.” But the authorities were also to blame because “they were unable to make use of this powerful and well-structured network of patriotic unions” to save the tsar and tsarism.

            In addition, Stepanov said, “certain representatives of the authorities destroyed the monarchist movement in a completely conscious way on behalf of their own political goals.” Thus, it wasn’t the Russian people or the Russian nationalists who are to blame but rather a conspiracy within the elite.

            The Russkaya narodnaya liniya editor does not appear to recognize that what he is really saying is that the Russian people and even those who proudly declared themselves to be defenders of the regime were not going to come to its defense in its hour of lead unless someone above them gave the order.

            A second speaker at the Petrozavodsk symposium, Andrey Vassoyevich, a professor at the University of St. Petersburg, opened up these questions more broadly in his presentation.  He said that “if one starts from state-patriotic positions, there have been three points of absolute evil in the country’s history over the last 500 years.”

            These are the time of troubles at the beginning of the 16th century, the February “bourgeois-democratic” revolution, and “the events of August-December 1991 when the Soviet Union was destroyed.” In all three cases, Vassoyevich said, those who initiated things were from the elites; and in all three, the Russian people didn’t defend the powers that had been.

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