Saturday, April 20, 2019

‘Homo Soveticus’ Not Only Lives But is Reproducing Itself in Younger Generations, Experts Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 20 – Many people expected that with the collapse of the communist state, the kind of subject it produced and required known then and now as homo soveticus would disappear, Lev Gudkov says; but after some encouraging signs in the early 1990s, it has reemerged and even is spreading to generations born after 1991. 
            The Levada Center director’s comments came at a meeting at Moscow’s Jewish Museum of experts on Russian society, each of whom shared his general conclusion but who offered intriguing details on how and why this has occurred, what signs exist that it may pass, and what Russians should do to overcome this Soveit legacy (

                During the period of the existence of the USSR, Gudkov says, “we obtained an individual who had adapted himself to a repressive state,” someone who “on the one hand, identified with the imperial state but at the same time understood that the state always deceives him and sought to escape from its control.” 

            Such an individual, Gudkov continued, was “extraordinarily cautious” and “oriented to physical survival and concerned about the well-being of only himself and his family,”  characteristics which remain widespread among Russians to this day including those born after the USSR ceased to exist.

            Anatoly Golubovsky, a specialist on the history of culture at the Free Historical Society, added that “our society which declared collectivism as its ideal was in fact extremely atomized. The chief moral imperative was the imperative of the camps: you die today,” and I tomorrow,” something that made spontaneous cooperation almost impossibl

            He suggests that this continuity has been partially obscured by the Kremlin’s talk about “’traditional values,’ when already at the start of the 2000s, the need arose to define somehow the succession of the present-day powers that be in relationship to those which went before them.”

            It became clear that “an authoritarian regime was gradually being built, where the chief value, moral or spiritual if you like, is the state. Such a system beyond doubt must be based don something. The conception arose that we have here a special Russian civilization which has its own special values.”

            Not since Stalin’s time, Golubovsky continued, had the state “devoted such attention to culture which became the main instrument in this work” as outlined in a strange document called the Foundations of State Cultural Policy, a document composed not by cultural specialists or sociologist but by bureaucrats.

            What that document did, he said, was to imply that there was a list of these values and that “everything that didn’t correspond to them was immoral and lacking spirituality. But what they were remains a secret.”

                Gudkov added that “the present-day regime is seeking to legitimize itself via an appeal to an invented path which never existed. Its chief thesis is the unity of the powers and the people with priority for state interests.”  And as Golubovsky noted in such a system, the state and its institutions turn out to be “the sources of spirituality, morality and essentially values.”

            In other comments, Gudkov stressed that “the Soviet man is not an ethnic characteristic. The same things have been found by sociologists in East Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic” because in all there was a socialist system but the impact of this system was greatest in Russia.

            These values have left society “very fragmented, full of apathy and an unwillingness to participate in public officials, a tribal consciousness,” to put in simplest terms, Gudkov says.  And whenever there are signs that people may come together as in the growth of voluntary organizations, the state works to coopt or shut them down viewing them as a threat to itself.

                The Levada Center director says that the main question is why was the Soviet system able to “create a new type – the Soviet man – over the course of 30 years” but after a similar period following “the counter-revolution of 1991, this didn’t happen?” The reason, of course, is that “no counterrevolution occurred.”

            The collapse of one institutional system “does not mean that all the rest fell apart as well,” he said.  Education, the courts and the military have all remained “practically unchanged.” And that has allowed the re-emergence of what one can call “secondary totalitarianism.”

            Today, “we have the very same Soviet hymn, Lenin monuments stand on the main streets of the city and alongside administration buildings. Five years ago, ‘Heroes of Labor’ awards returned. All this is an important symbolic milieu which the individual sees every day but doesn’t even recognize,” Gudkov says.

            But that milieu is “returning us to the Soviet man,” homo soveticus. 

            To change this, Golubovsky added, “one must acknowledge the totalitarian Soviet system as criminal and put is monuments in museums.” Russians today should not be surrounded by memorials to people who “subjected the country to a bestial civilizational catastrophe” – and yet that is exactly the case now.

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