Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Russia’s Tragedy is that Those who Love Russia Don’t Love Freedom and Those who Love Freedom Don’t Love Russia, Tsipko Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 16 – Russia’s underlying tragedy, one that has been very much on public view for more than a century, is that its patriots who declare their love for “old Russia” are completely opposed to the values of freedom and human rights, while liberals view the Russian past as alien rather than something that must be built on, Aleksandr Tsipko says.

            The patriots worship Russia and the Russian state without any commitment to live according to Christian and European principles, while the liberals want to impose those principles without regard to Russian history and its particular path, the senior Moscow commentator says (

            As a result, Tsipko continues, many Russian liberals today look back with favor on Lenin because like them he believed that Russia was not important in and of itself but could be transformed with imported values, while Russian patriots want to maintain the Russian state tradition which denies human rights and freedom.

            And that leaves the country without a single political force “which would like to combine the values of European humanism with our national values” and thus means that Russia is “in its current ideological dead end.” And as a result, Tsipko continues, the “deep” Russian people can only say that “’all the same under Stalin, it was better because then everyone feared us.’”

             Such nostalgia for Bolshevik romanticism, he argues, “is killing the future of the country.”

            Tsipko reaches this conclusion after considering the way in which Russian communists and Russian liberals have switched sides in their evaluation of Lenin. Gennady Zyuganov, head of the KPRF, doesn’t have a picture of Lenin, Marx or Engels in his office, while Russian liberals often celebrate Lenin and his maximalism.

            According to the Russian commentator, this switch is “not accidental.” Since 1991, the KPRF has joined the patriots and viewed Lenin as alien to Russia, while Russian liberals have viewed Lenin in an increasingly positive light precisely for the same reason – Lenin’s dismissal of the Russian past and his belief that Russia could begin anew with imported principles.

            As far as Zyuganov is concerned, “everything is clear,” Tsipko says. “The ideology of the KPRF is not Marxism but national communism, for which the holy of holies is not the internationalist Lenin but the statist Stalin. National communism is the combination of the values of the USSR with the values of Russian statehood.”

            The situation of Russian liberals like Vladimir Pastukhov and Dmitry Bykov is somewhat more complicated to explain. They admire the Bolshevik leader because Lenin believed Russia was a blank slate that he could write on with imported values and was prepared to fight the past in the name of building a future detached from it.    

            Tsipko suggests on the basis of his own experience that such a reversal in assessments was presaged by the attitudes of the CPSU leadership at the end of Soviet times. In 1980, he related, he published a book, Socialism: the Life of Society and Man, in which he argued that “the greatest danger for society as a social organism came from lengthy civil wars.”

            The censor passed this, but then the CPSU Central Committee’s science section intervened and attacked that as a manifestation of anti-Sovietism. But they acted too late: 50,000 copies of the book sold out in the first few days because of the interest of Soviet intellectuals in such ideas.

            Now, 40 years on, and 30 after the 1991 revolution, “the liberal intelligentsia opposed to the autocracy of Putin is calling us to return to the values of the Marxist doctrine about revolution,” a doctrine that ignored the past and was based on the idea that an ideological matrix could and should be imposed by force if necessary.

            Lenin, of course, was a complicated figure, with the ideas he operated on while in power very different from those of his last years when he was ill and observing what his ideas were leading to. The distinction is critical for understanding the difference in attitudes toward Lenin among the Soviet intelligentsia in the past and those among the Russian intelligentsia now.

            “If for us, Soviet intelligents, the late Lenin was the authority (with his help, we tried to speak out against those who called in the early 1980s to return to the construction of communism), then for [Russian liberals today), it is Lenin the utopian who leads them to support his approach if not his specific ideas about social construction. 

            That is why Russian liberals, like the reformers of the 1990s, viewed Lenin as close to them. Like him they were more in love with an idea than with their country, and they did not think about how to combine the two, as the authors of Vekhi did more than a century ago, Tsipko continues.

            “It turns out,” the commentator observes, “that if you do not respect the pre-communist past of our country, its traditions and values, then you are not in a pposition to escape from communism and create a full-blown European society and not in a position to incorporate liberal values in life, values which are supposedly so important to you.”

            And thus, you do not see, he says, as the Vekhi authors did most clearly, that it is “impossible to create something new by destroying the old to its foundations.”

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