Staunton, Apr. 12 – Polls show that “the USSR is the most precious thing in history for most Russians,” Aleksey Levinson says. They remember its collapse and can even be said to be obsessed about it; but they remember almost nothing about how it came into existence and what those who established it intended.
In a special issue of Neprikosnovenny zapas devoted to the nationality question in Soviet times, the Russian sociologist says that this imbalance between memories about its collapse and the lack of memories about its creation is one of the defining features of Russian identity and even Russian policy today (magazines.gorky.media/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/nz146-6-9-levinson.pdf).
Levinson reports that Russians don’t remember how the USSR was established. For most of them, “the USSR arose directly out of the Russian Empire as a result of the October Revolution, the image of which has suffered significant erosion as it centenary approaches.” The Soviet Union is thus considered as a positive and entirely legitimate phenomenon.
Russians remember that there was a civil war, but they do not remember the formation of independent states on the periphery of the empire or that most but not all of them were reconquered as part of the Bolshevik program to spread the world revolution. Nor do they remember that the RSFSR preceded the USSR.
As far as Russian memories of the demise of the USSR are concerned, they focus on two points: Russia’s loss of status as a real great power and its loss of defensive rings around Russia which allowed Stalin to build a medieval power in the Kremlin by preventing anyone from attacking it.
Many like to say that Putin is “copying Stalin,” but this is simultaneously “true and not true at all,” Levinson says. When Putin came to power, Russia existed in “a strange state” of not having enemies abroad. The current Kremlin leader recreated the ring of hostile states around Russia but initially made friends with others further away.
The Crimean Anschluss changed everything. It was not “a repetition of the Stalinist cult. It was something new.” Russians showed themselves willing to live under sanctions; and those around Russia reached out to the Western powers for protection against Moscow’s renewed aggressiveness.
At the end of his article, Levinson suggests that Russian interest in restoring the Pioneers and the Komsomol (but not the CPSU) reflects how they see the past: they remember stories from their parents and grandparents about these youth groups and the communal feelings they generated. That they want to restore but not the CPSU itself.