Staunton, Nov. 25—It is often said that success has a thousand fathers while failure is an orphan, but in Russia, the reverse seems to be true at least as far as those seeking to identify people responsible for the demise of the USSR are concerned. They are identifying ever more people to blame, including some who might not appear to be likely candidates.
The latest to be accused of promoting the demise of the Soviet Union is the late Mikhail Suslov, the hardline party ideologist who opposed change, fought dissidents and favored repression. On the 120th anniversary of his birth, Vladimir Marchenko argues that “his role in the disintegration of the USSR is underrated” (business-gazeta.ru/article/573504).
The reason for holding Suslov responsible, the commentator says, is that “all that he did for the preservation of the Soviet Union turned out to contribute to its destruction” because Suslov “helped Gorbachev move from Stavropol to Moscow,” and died too soon to be able to block the rise of his enemy Yury Andropov.
But in fact, Marchenko says, those two developments were incomparably less serious as far as the future was concerned than “the destructive work which [Suslov] had done for decades. Gorbachev was no more than a doctor who came to a mortally ill man and wasn’t able to save him. Earlier, he could have been but when Suslov was the doctor, nothing was done.”
Moreover, there is no indication that the chief ideologist understood either ideology or his role in the fate of the USSR. He believed that everything had to continue as it was and that no new ideas must ever be considered or allowed to come in from the outside. If these weren’t blocked, the country would suffer a Prague spring. But he got things exactly wrong.
In this, he was completely unlike Stalin’s secret police chief Lavrenty Beria. When Stalin demanded that all Soviet scholarship be purged of bourgeois ideas, Beria was prepared to do so everywhere but in physics. There, he drew the line because as he told Stalin who would be left to build nuclear weapons? Stalin was convinced and backed down.
But had Suslov been in Beria’s place, physics would have been purged too, and the USSR would have been left with the means to defend itself, Marchenko says. And that kind of mistake was one that Suslov committed again and again to the detriment of the Soviet Union and its population.
“Suslov’s last actions were the introduction of forces into Afghanistan and the promotion of Mikhail Gorbachev to the post o f Central Committee secretary.” He could have blocked both but didn’t. He was seduced by Gorbachev’s fawning when Suslov visited Stavropol, and he died before he could block Andropov.
Marchenko’s comments, of course, aren’t about the past alone. They also constitute an argument against those, including Vladimir Putin, who always say no to that are likely to discover that the future will be very different and possibly disastrously different than the one they want to maintain unchanged.