Saturday, January 28, 2017

What If the USSR hadn’t Fallen Apart or Were to Come Back Together?

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 28 – Vladimir Putin famously described the collapse of the USSR as “the greatest geopolitical tragedy of the 20th century” and is working to restore some variant of it.  But a Russian commentator says that the events of 1991 changed less for Russians than many think and that a revived Soviet Union would change them again less than they imagine.

            Obviously, the collapse of the USSR had a major impact on the non-Russian republics that gained their independence, Nikolay Yurenyev concedes in an article written last year that has now been posted by Politobzor and the loss of that independence were they to be reabsorbed would have at least as great consequences for them.

            But for Russians the situation in both cases is very different, he suggests, because while they changed their socio-economic system after 1991 and would change it yet again if a variant USSR came back, the Russians were and would still be dealing with the same elite that ran their country into the ground (

            Yurenyev entitles his reflections, “What Would Have been the Situation if the USSR hadn’t Fallen Apart?”  If somehow a single big United Russian Federation with a capitalist economy had managed to hold together?  But what is most striking he argues is how little these events meant to the Russian people.

            The preservation of a single territory would  not have prevented common degradation” of all. “The Russian Federation or Ukraine even divided had sufficient resources to become developed countries, but just as they didn’t do so as separate contries, they wouldn’t have done so as one together.”
            To be sure, Yurenyev continues, “the Empire Russia could have had greater geopolitical weight.”  And some economic combinations that collapsed because of the division of the territory might have been saved. But the elite that ran things after 1991 was all too much like the elite that ran the USSR into the ground because of selfishness and greed.

            It is also true that there wouldn’t have been wars with Georgia and Ukraine if the country had remained in one piece, but oil all the same would have declined in price, the Russian economy would be dependent on exports of raw materials, and the country “all the same would have been economically and productively backward.”

            What then would it have mattered had the USSR not disintegrated? Almost nothing because “the elites would have been the same, the economy would have been the same, and the villages would still be dying out.”

            Anyone who considers the matter seriously, Yurenyev continues, will recognize that “the real causes of the collapse of 1991 go back to the distant post-Stalinist past when the CPSU changed from being an ideological party into a means of advancement and receiving privileges for it members.”

            That set in train a constantly expanding “negative selection” of cadres and led to “a cult of hypocrisy” that didn’t end in 1991 or start then either.  Negative selection “did its work over the course of years. Hypocritical elites entrenched themselves and sought new means for their further advancement and for new privileges.”

            Unfortunately for them and for Russia, they soon discovered that “the Soviet system was extremely limited” as far as what it could give them, and so they began to cast about for a replacement where they, but not the country, could get even more. Thus well before 1991, “the USSR was doomed.”

            The Soviet system was brought down from within by those who were supposed to be serving it, Yurenyev says. “And they knew just how to do that, showing ‘the impossibility of socialism’ and ‘the backwardness of a planned economy.”

            Given that, “a completely new elite was needed, and of course reforms. However, there was not counter-elite: negative selection had done its work. The army quickly changed its oath, the KGB was converted into the FSB, and no one [in these places or elsewhere] was disturbed by this.”

            What was changed was the social and economic system but not those who ruled over it and who were prepared to take from it what the old Soviet system couldn’t give. “Privatization allowed for the monetarization of the situation, and the elites got the country as their private property. That is the entire history” of 1991 and the years following.

            “The USSR was doomed to a change in its social system: it couldn’t work out a stable political system.” But tragically, “Russia was doomed to the same elites.”  And that meant “collapse was built into the system” because the CPSU was no longer an ideological vanguard: it was a way for people to make a career.

            That and no foreign enemy was to blame. In fact, foreign enemies prevented the collapse of the USSR from happening earlier because the elites were threatened “in the event of defeat with losing everything” and so behaved less greedily than was their want and more patriotically than they were inclined.

            As soon as the Gorbachev thaw began, Yurenyev says, these elites quickly and easily “betrayed their country” in order to benefit themselves. And in the years since then, they have done quite well – for themselves – stealing from the people and sending abroad “no less than 1.3 trillion dollars.”

            Until these greedy and self-seeking elites are replaced, he says, there is no hope for real progress. Unfortunately, neither a consumer society nor a market economy is “capable” of producing replacements. “Even the USSR wasn’t capable of that, although it did raise a completely suitable population, educated and ready to work.”

            What that means, Yurenyev says, is that “even if by some miracle the restoration of the USSR would occur, that would give [Russians] exactly nothing.” The reason is simple: “That which is dead cannot die, but it can’t live either.”

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