Friday, April 24, 2020

‘Russia without Putin’ Tragically Only an Updated Version of ‘USSR without CPSU,’ Kotsyubinsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, April 23 – One reason why Russia has gone through its accustomed cycle of a time of troubles, collapse, war, restoration, stagnation and moves toward a new time of troubles so quickly is that 35 years ago when Mikhail Gorbachev launched perestroika, many thought that there was only one step needed, “a USSR without the CPSU,” Daniil Kotsyubinsky says.

            As a result, people at that time did not explore all the ramifications of the system or the fact that changing only one element would not be sufficient to transform Russia in the directions many hoped for, according to the St. Petersburg State University historian and regionalist theorist (

            A result of that myopia and failure to consider the system broadly, he says, when things did come apart, “neither the powers nor society not political activists turned out to be morally and intellectually prepared.”  And as a result, the only thing that kept things from falling apart still further was the old faith in “’a real tsar’” and Russia as “’a great power.’”

            Because of that, “the chance for a complete demolishing of the empire and a transition from a single and indivisible autocracy to parliamentary models of a regional scale, living according to law and not the arbitrary decisions of an autocrat was missed.” Some might say that there was no such chance, but in fact, no one even considered what was needed.

            Today, Kotsyubinsky says, Russia has “exactly the same problem.” The intellectual class lacks the spiritual courage to begin thinking about the regime seriously and not in alarmist terms. Evidence of that, he continues, is that all too many Russians today think “a Russia without Putin” will be the same magical device that they once believed “a USSR without the CPSU” would be.

            Like their grandparents, parents and in some cases themselves 35 years ago, these Russians are deceiving themselves. “And this means that when history next time gives Russian society a sudden change to demolish the imperial machine,” they will be no more ready than Russians were two degenerations ago.

            There is still time for them to come around and face the bitter realities that must be confronted honestly, the historian says. In the late 1980s, had Russians done that, they would have seen that democracy without liberalism like a market without private property were contradictions in terms and that communism and freedom were antithetical.

            They would have understood that Stalin did not pervert the doctrines of Marx and Lenin but was “a direct continuer of their essentially anti-human actions and that ‘the Stalinist USSR’ was not an accidental historical monster” but the logical working out of the system with roots in the earlier Soviet period and before.

            There were some who understood this, such as Larisa Piyasheva, Vasily Selyunin and Igor Klyamkin, “but their voices were very few,” Kotsyubinsky says. There could have been more, but the system worked to keep people like himself from publishing deeper explorations of the problem.

            Now something similar is at work, and the questions that should be asked aren’t being. As a result, there is grave danger that those who think that “a Russia without Putin” will be the world they hope for are certain to discover that it won’t be any fuller a realization of their hopes than “a USSR without the CPSU” was in the past.

            Kotsyubinsky says that in the hope that his reflections at the end of the 1990s on just how ramified the system was and how much had to be changed may have an impact now, his 27,000 word thesis work which he prepared together with Dmitry Sokolov is now published as an appendix to his argument.
            It is very much worth reading both for what it says about the Soviet system and as a model for thinking about the Putin system now, at least for those who want to do away with both.

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