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Elements of the genesis of the post-soviet regime

USSR - Russian Federation - Community of Independent States (CIS)

First published in : Controverses, Cahier Thématique No. 1, November 2011.


With an immense joy, on November 9, 1989, the world bourgeoisie took notice of the first breach in the Berlin Wall and the announcement of free elections in East Germany (GDR). Practically two years later, in December 1991, faced with the implosion of the soviet empire and, by con­sequence, with the disappearance of the USSR, it was jubilant. This is what Stéphane Courtois, an anticommunist ideologist, wrote about these events in a book of 2007 : [1]

“In the whole of the Union manifestations of hostility toward the CPSU multiplied and on August 23, Yeltsin suspends its activities on Russian territory. On the 25th, on recommenda­tion of Gorbachev, the Central Committee of the CPSU pronounces its self-dissolution, fol­lowed by the Supreme Soviet on August 29. The central power has just broken down and nine republics immediately proclaim their independence : Estonia en Latvia, Ukraine, Belorussia, Moldavia, Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. On October 11 the KGB is dis­solved, and on December 8 Yeltsin meets the presidents of Ukraine and Belorussia at Minsk, with whom he signes an agreement creating the Community of Independent States to which the former soviet republics adhere – with the exception of the three Baltic republics and Geor­gia. On December 25, 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev announces his retreat from the presidency of a defunct USSR. Thereby he puts an end to three quarters of a century of domination of a totalit­arian communism, provokes the breaking down of world communism and opens the era of post-communism”.

Apart from the resistance by the Party-State of the Chinese empire and some “communist” residues (Vietnam, North-Korea, Cuba), this was the victory of the liberal tendency of capitalism over the stat­ist regimes.

The Treaty of Yalta and the division of the world into two antagonistic blocs since 1945 were erased from the map : the Western bloc prevailed economically over the failing structures of the Eastern bloc. What had been conveniently called “the communist countries” (the USSR) collapsed with great noise, whereas the propaganda and the media of the West had presented them as regimes that would last for thousands of years. But beyond the confrontation between liberalism and statism, what was it about ? What has really been covered by the term “communism” ? Has there not been an ideological veil laid upon the historical process since the beginning of the 20th Century ? What was the real nature of the post-soviet regime that has been installed in 1991 in place of the “soviet” regime ?


1. On the origins of Sovietism

In 1914 the principal parties and chiefs of Social Democracy dragged along the proletariat of all coun­tries into the barbarity of the First World War. This was the bankruptcy of the 2nd International in face of the humiliating interests of the capitalist system. Only some rare revolutionary groups suc­ceeded in opposing the carnage in the name of proletarian internationalism by staying loyal to the Marxist objective : “Proletarians of all countries, unite !” and by struggling for world revolution. More and more numerous workers rebelled at the battle fields on from 1916 – 1917, in order to put an end to the militarist butchery (refusal to leave the trenches, desertions...). This was particularly the case in Czarist Russia at the front against German imperialism. Thanks to their revolution of 1905, the Russian proletarians had gained the experience of massive self-government by the Soviets (Workers’ Councils). They reappeared in February 1917, following protest movements and the strike of the Putilov factory, which led to the abdication of the Czar on demand of the army chiefs.

In face of the provisional government of Prince Lvov in which the socialist Kerensky was seated, the Petrograd soviet, who was dominated by the soldiers’ delegates, representing a garrison of 160,000 at the capital, organized itself. On April 17, Lenin (who had returned from Switzerland) and the Bolshevik party pronounced themselves against the imperialist war, against the provisional govern­ment and against the idea of a parliamentary republic as well. The trial of strength had begun ! In ef­fect, in July 1917 the Bolshevik party was outlawed : Lenin had to flee to Finland as Trotsky and other leaders were arrested. The daily newspaper Pravda was closed. Kerensky became the strong man by in­stalling a new government under his presidency. He appointed general Kornilov as commander in chief, but revoked this a little later because he feared his too large influence. Faced with the crisis that accelerated : multiplication of desertions, social conflicts, peasant revolts, etc... he decided to hence­forth rely on the Soviet. On September 14 he proclaimed the parliamentary republic. However, on October 8 the Bolsheviks conquered the direction of the Petrograd soviet, with Trotsky as its presid­ent, demanding the dissolution of the government. Seven days later, in spite of opposition by sev­eral leaders within the Central Committee, Lenin demanded the preparation of the insurrection in the name of the slogan “All power to the soviets”. After the seizure of power by 6,000 red guards directed by the Military Revolutionary Center (given the assault on the Winter Palace), an All-Russian con­gress of the soviets opened on November 8. Its central executive committee was reorganized, under the direction of the Bolsheviks and a fraction of the Social Revolutionaries, the left SR. The power of the Workers’ Councils seemed to live its apogee with respect to the creation of a new government, the Council of the People’s Commissioners (Sovnarkom). In any case, in the eyes of the world, it had become the symbol, the incarnation of communism that was detested by the possessing classes.

Later, in 1919, Nikolai Bukharin and Evgenii Preobrazhensky wrote The ABC of Communism in which they based themselves on the foundation of the Third International in order to exalt proletarian inter­nationalism : [2]

“In March 1919, at the Kremlin in Moscow, was held the first international communist con­gress, at which the Third, or Communist, International was formally constituted (...) The platform put forward by the German and Russian communists was adopted by the congress with complete unanimity, this showing that the proletariat had planted its feet solidly under the banner of the dictatorship of the proletariat, soviet power and communism”.


2. Degeneration and Stalinism

But very rapidly sovietism went into decline. Already the majority of the Bolsheviks who opposed themselves against the Brest-Litovsk talks with German imperialism (the fractional journal Kommun­ist published at Petrograd) and against the signature of the separate ‘peace treaty’ on March 3, 1918, had to abandon its perspective of a defensive war. Then, withdrawn at Moscow, the fraction of left communists led by, amongst others, Bukharin and Ossinsky, criticized the majority politics of the party at the economic level. The four editions of Kommunist that appeared in the form of a revue (from March to May 1918) dared to attack what would become the credo of the regime that would be qualified as “soviet”. In effect, Lenin delivered the apology of “state capitalism”, which he qualified as the antechamber of socialism, as “a step forward”. He wanted to apply the measures of the Taylor system in order to rationalize labor and increase its productivity.

Consecutively the sinister Cheka, created in December 1917, [3] engaged in action in order to repress the left SR after their assassination of the German ambassador, count Von Mirbach. Its policing role did not stop to grow since, in particular against workers’ strikes. In absence of world revolution (the failure of the Spartakists in Germany, etc...) “communism” revealed itself as an ideology that gave way to the sordid reality of “socialism in one country” - that is to say : to the horrors of forced labor under state capitalism. In 1921 the repression of the workers and of the marines of Kronstadt marked the end of the soviet dream : the insurrectionists rose up under the slogan of “All power to the soviets and not to the party” and were crushed by Trotsky’s army under the false pretext that they had been infiltrated by the white guards. But oppositional groups manifested themselves and resisted within the Third International and later outside of it : they were called the Communist Lefts (mainly from Germany, the Netherlands and Italy) on whom Lenin wanted to impose his tactics (parliamentarism, syndicalism, the struggle for national liberation, ‘frontism’). In contradiction to the whole of the trotskyist movement, that continued its line of “defending the USSR” and that perished in the 2nd imperialist war, these groups knew how to maintain the line of proletarian internationalism. This was also the case with the Russian Left, like the Workers’ Group of Miasnikov (1923), who continued denouncing the counterrevolution until 1928.

Stalin mobilized the so-called communist parties of every country for the “defense of the USSR” and launched the politics of “Popular fronts”, like for instance in France and Spain in 1936. Western intel­lectuals had rallied as ‘fellow travelers’ to the October Revolution since its first years and propagated communist ideology by advocating support for the USSR with their governments. One of the most famous was Herbert George Wells, the British author of science fiction novels like “Time machine”, “The island of doctor Moreau”, “The invisible man”, “War of the Worlds”. In the autumn of 1920 he made a journey to Petrograd, during which he met Lenin (“The dreamer of the Kremlin” who had told him : “Come back in ten years to see what we will have accomplished in Russia”). His ac­count was published under the title “Russia in the shadow”. [4] In fact, Wells feared to see the “Asi­an” and “peasant” chaos of industrialization spread to the West. Like Maxim Gorky, at whose premises he stayed, the reason he supported the Bolsheviks was to save the civilized world (“the people of the English and Russian languages”). In contrast to George Orwell, who was intransigently con­temptuous of Stalinism (“A farewell to arms”, “1984 ”), Wells pushed his admiration for the USSR very far. He undertook another journey from July 22 to August 1, 1934. He had a conversation with Stal­in at Moscow, whose despotism he feared, but to whom he wanted to relate his meeting with Frank­lin Roosevelt at the White House, where he had evoked “the new perspectives of worldwide coopera­tion that opened themselves for humanity.” Ideological blindness made him write : [5]

“I have never met a more sincere, more loyal and more honest man. The considerable as­cendancy he enjoys unequivocally in Russia is due to these qualities and not to occult and sinister maneuvers. Before meeting him I had thought that he might occupy the place he is in because of fear for him, but I realize that he owns his position from the fact that nobody fears him, and that everyone has confidence in him.”

Beyond this portrait Wells tried to discuss economics with the master of the Kremlin by reminding Lenin’s declaration after the revolution : “Now communism has to learn how to engage in commercial trade.” Always a partisan of state capitalism, the English author declared : “And I added that for the West the terms of the proposition should be inverse : the world of commerce now has to learn the socializa­tion of capital. This is fundamentally what Russian communism amounts to at present. It is a state cap­italism with a certain cosmopolitan tradition.” [6]

This utopian dream of cooperation between the liberals and the statists will fall apart on the relations of force between the great powers, who do not arrive at resolving the social contradictions that arose from the consequences of the economic crisis of 1929. Faced with Nazi Germany, the colonial demo­cracies (England, France) will permit the terror of state capitalism striking their ally Russia in the form of the great Stalinist purges (1936 – 1938), wiping crocodile tears over it.


3. The prodromes of the end

In 1945 the Stalinist regime, still baptized USSR, came out of its “Great Patriotic War” wholly en­shrined, in the course of which it knocked down the Nazi army at Volgograd, the city that was subsequently renamed Stalingrad. This exploit permitted it to penetrate to Berlin well before the arrival of the troops of American imperialism (Germany was divided up in two parts) and to plunder numerous coun­tries that augmented its eastern slant. Despite colossal losses on the human and material levels, the statist bloc named ‘communist’ seemed thus reenforced with regards to its ‘private capitalist’ rival (Paul Mattick would qualify the latter as a “mixed” economy in his 1969 work Marx and Keynes). But the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki convinced Stalin of the technological and milit­ary inferiority of the USSR, which appeared as a giant on loam feet. It had to continue its efforts to ameliorate its weaponry and its rockets at the expense of the development of consumer goods. The confrontation with the United States progressively took form at the expense of Russian state capitalism and, following several economic, political and social crises, would lead to the implosion of the re­gime fraudulently called communist until 1991. Beyond the “conquest of space” (The Sputnik in 1957 and Gagarin orbiting the planet in 1961) or “the installation of the rockets” (Cuba), Nikita Khrushchev would have to relentlessly en­gage in “peaceful coexistence” with the permanent obsession of keeping up with, and even going beyond Western consumer society.


* The “secret” report of Khrushchev (1956)

In the post-communist regime that has been established in 1991 the authorities begin to take con­science of the evolution that has led to the fall of the USSR. This is underlined by Jean-Jacques Marie in his book Khrushchev – The impossible reform, for which he has based himself on the Russian edition of the latter’s Memoirs, not purged by the KGB :

In an interview given in 2001, shortly before his death, the former KGB chief Semitchasny confirms, evoking the end of the Boris Yeltsin presidency : Everything we have in our coun­try nowadays has started with Khrushchev. Whether some want to recognize it or not, it is with Khrushchev that all this has begun.” Some years later, in 2006, Mikhail Gorbachev declares in more vague terms : “There exists an organic link between the 20th Congress and Perestroika. In 1956, like in the era of Perestroika, what ripened in society has expressed itself brutally and could not but externalize itself. This was the beginning of important changes.” [7] In order to make himself better understood the author adds : [8]“However, Gorbachev and Semitchasny were hardly mistaken. The reforms by Khrushchev aimed at ameliorating and softening the functioning of the society formed by Stalin, dominated by a bureaucratic caste, the Nomenclature, keen on extending its privileges.

However, far from being linked to a simple bureaucratic caste that parasites on the social product, (advantages in kind), the regime Khrushchev wanted to reform was a real state capitalism in gesta­tion, whose bourgeois class tried to extract surplus value in the framework of a production based on heavy industry. Following the dislocation of the soviets since 1921 and the prohibition of fractions in the Party at the same time, the State had crystallized around political leaders who formed a real class of apparatchiks that dominated society and economy. This was where the Power was located.

Stalin died on March 5, 1953. For the funeral ceremony on the Red Square the knives were drawn : Khrushchev succeeded to be the first to speak. Allied with a part of the old Stalinist guard, he did the housekeeping and eliminated the adversaries who stood in his way. So he proceeded with the physical liquidation of Beria, who had reigned the NKVD with support of Stalin. To this aim he profited from the general strike by the workers of East Berlin and the GDR, that was smothered in blood, by putting the responsibility on Beria, who had not hidden his intentions of relinquishing the GDR by proposing neutrality to a reunified Germany. Khrushchev subsequently had to confront the economic crisis of the USSR. Effectively, as Jean-Jacques Marie observes : [9]

“With the death of Stalin the Soviet Union extinguishes ; its industrial production stagnates and its agriculture is ruined. The kolkhozes have to deliver a round half of the grains that they harvest and more than half of the meat and the milk they produce at prices that even don’t cover the production costs. In 1950, 22.4 % of the kolkhozians have officially not touched a kopeck for their trudodni, not a single working day. They have worked for noth­ing during the whole year ! (…) The USSR is confronted with a kind of immense passive strike of the peasants and with a food deficit, dissimulated by annual price reductions on more and more not findable products. The situation of the rural areas around Moscow – like that in the rest of the country – is catastrophic.”

Khrushchev, like the other successors, became frightened by this situation and by the necessity of an economic reconstruction at the cost of popular uprisings. Not succeeding in this, they tried a political reform of the system in order to whitewash the Party of what they called : “the crimes of Stalin”. To this aim they invented a formula : “the personality cult”, with which all the errors were blamed on the former little ‘father of the people.’ By the end of February 1956 the 20th Party congress took place, at which the cooperation with the United States was boasted about, but after its ending (on February 25th) a closed meeting was held under presidency of Bulganin. Over five hours Khrushchev read a “secret” report amidst a deadly silence in which he denounced the crimes of Stalin (his authoritarianism, his personal­ity cult) against the collective leadership of the Party. Instead of the usual ovations the hall remained mute. The mass terror against the Party cadres was considered as the most severe crime. [i] Contrary to Raymond Aron, who believed in a complete and truthful version, Khrushchev did not speak about the persecutions nor about the great purge in order to evade discrediting the leaders of the foreign C.P.’s who had applauded them. But this so-called “secret” report was ultimately read to... 30 million listen­ers (Party members, komsomols, non party-members...).

Four years later Khrushchev reexplained the operation of his “secret” report. At the 22nd Congress in October 1961, his introductory report underlined its importance to saving the USSR : [10]

“Was it necessary to criticize the severe errors and the hard consequences that the personal­ity cult brought with it so violently and frankly ? […] Yes, it had to be done. […] What would have become of the Party and of the country if the personality cult had not been condemned and if one had not [surpassed] the social consequences ? […] The Party risked to become isolated from the masses, from the people.”

We know that the attempts to rehabilitate Stalin, since the era of Leonid Brezhnev until our days, after 1991, go via the demonizing of the reformist report of Khrushchev or via treating it as “revision­ist”, like the Chinese Party of Mao Zedong did. However, immediately after his report, Khrushchev had taken precautions to protect himself. So he announced the dissolution of the Kominform, that had been a war machine mounted by Stalin against the Yugoslav CP and Tito-ism.

But storm was grumbling with the insurrectionist strike of the workers of the metal factory Zispo at Poznan (Poland). The tanks intervened against what was called “the subversive activities of the imperi­alists”. Mutineers were partly forgiven, but the explosion went off in Hungary and sapped the posit­ive echo of the “secret” report with regards to the Stalinist terror. After a solidarity demonstration with the Polish workers on October 23, 1956, a Hungarian revolution began with the spontaneous constitution of soviets in the enterprises.

The situation became worse with the announcement of the end of the single-party regime by Imre Nagy. Mao and Tito gave their agreement to Khrushchev to send Russian tanks in order to crush the insurrectionists of Budapest (the restoration of ‘order’ took 20.000 lives). In the following years all this agitation raised doubts about whether Khrushchev led a new politics. In the GDR the legend of the propagandist of “peaceful coexistence” with the West started to break down : in March 1961 Walter Ulbricht submitted the idea of separating East Berlin from the western zone by a wall to him in order to stop the growing stream of refugees. In the morning of August 19 this wall was erected, little by little, with the help of soldiers of the GDR and the USSR, under the protection of tanks.

Confidence in Khrushchev eroded in the course of years and coalitions were formed against him. In 1964 a conspiracy developed with the Party. On October 14 the Presidium persuaded the man of the “secret” report to resign and chose Leonid Brezhnev as secretary-general.


* Secret services (Andropov) and Perestroika (Gorbachev)

The regime becomes aware of the inevitability of its downfall. Was does it have to do ? This becomes the essential question and this situation will lead to the taking in hand of the regime by the sole KGB. The history of the secret services destined to repression comprises nine decades. Her is their genealo­gical tree : Cheka (GPOe, OGPou, NKVD, MGB, MVD, KGB, MSB, AFB, MB, FSK, FSB).

The last five acronyms have succeeded in less than six years in the course of the 1990s. They testify of the constancy of the secret services that made an end to the illusions of the so-called soviet regime and to the communist ideology, while making the transition to the post-soviet regime after 1991. The reference to the Cheka remains a title of nobility : its agents are and take themselves for the elite of the Nation like those of the École Nationale d’Administration in France. Two structures have had an exceptional longevity : the NKVD, bound up with the name of Beria and the KGB (35 years) : Andropov presided it for 15 consecutive years, utilizing psychiatry as an instrument of political repression. In 1982 a con­frontation took place between the KGB (under direction of Andropov) and the mythical CPSU (Com­munist Party of the Soviet Union). Rivalry grew and it became evident that, sooner or later, one of them had to disappear. But the nomination of Andropov at the head of the secret services resulted in yet another political decision : he had left Lubianka (police offices since 1917) in May 1982 before in­stalling himself in the Kremlin in November of that year. At this moment the disappearance of Brezh­nev allowed him to gain absolute power. The KGB had definitively laid its hand on the future of the USSR.

By waging a struggle against corruption Andropov became the first “soviet” leader to have official­ized its existence. He dared to take on with diverse mafias of an empire in decline. Albeit he only governed for fifteen months the man took the stature of a veritable legend. Effectively, with regards to the genesis of the post-soviet regime, public opinion conserves the idea that only Andropov would have been capable of reforming the USSR without destroying it. In any case, beyond his real motives, one can think that he had understood earlier than the others that busi­ness could no longer continue like before.

Under the regime of Brezhnev repression had hardened and clandestine dissident activity (which dis­posed of networks with the West) propagated throughout the country thanks to samizdat (abandon­ment of “socialist realism” in order to return to the realities of life). The book with the greatest ac­claim was The Gulag Archipelago, written by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, witness of the prosecution against “soviet totalitarianism “. It fell in the hands of the KGB and its first version appeared in France on December 28, 1973. Despite Perestroika and Glasnost, Solzhenitsyn refused the State prize that Mikhail Gorbachev wanted to honor him with in 1990. As a veneered patriarch he returned to the Russia of Yeltsin in 1994, who made an effort to “democratize the institutions” (reestablishment of the State Duma). But only in 2007, at the age of 88, he accepted to be honored by President Vladi­mir Putin, receiving the official prize for his works on the Gulag. By way of gratitude, Solzhenitsyn had republished an old text that wanted to help in drawing the historical lessons with regards to ac­tuality : [11]

“On February 27, 2007, the pro-government journal Rossiiskaya Gazeta (with a circula­tion of 500.000 copies) published ‘Reflections on the February revolution (1917)’, an essay by Solzhenitsyn from the beginning of the 1980s (…) The writer makes it clear that these 90 years old events had to serve as an example for the political line of 2007. Nothing as­tonishing about it. Qualifying the downfall of the Russian monarchy as a tragedy, the author accuses the Czar to not have crushed the opposition from its very beginnings and to have dis­tanced itself too much from the people. He criticized, en bloc, parliamentarianism, the liber­als and the Russians who “had forgotten God”, underlining that the planetary, cosmic cata­clysm that shook the beginning of a bloody century, was due to the abdication of an excess­ively weak Czar who had betrayed his country.”

In this way it was confirmed that, beyond dissidence in view of overthrowing the so-called soviet re­gime, reactionary ideas about Great Russia made themselves heard. Solzhenitsyn disappeared on Au­gust 3, 2008, without having been able to play any fundamental political role.

In the course of years the USSR became ever more pushed and pulled between the central power and that of the peripheral republics. The new leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, tried to put in place a politics of perestroika (restructuring of the economy), which turned into a catastrophe, and one of Glasnost (transparency and freedom of expression), which hardly succeeded either. Caught between a fistful of illuminated liberals and an armada of sclerotic Stalinists, shaken by the crowds, perplexed by his in­coherent actions, in sum : bypassed by History, he began to run after the events. Supreme error : he tried to modify the political structures without achieving to reform the economy. So he totally disor­ganized the state capitalist system without however putting into place a market economy. Since 1986 Gorbachev no longer controlled the evolution of economy. He did not succeed to lead the USSR out of the “period of stagnation” of the Brezhnev era : delay at the technical level, corruption, financial exhaustion because of the arms race, the catastrophic military adventure in Afghanistan. By contrast, helped by the representations of his elegant wife Raïssa and his facade of democratization, he achieved great successes during his voyages to the West : this was “Gorbymania”. The myth of the persevering reformer, of the liberal, the democrat, who wanted to reverse the course of history despite the resistance of the reactionaries and dogmatists was widely propagated. On December 8, 1987, he signed a treaty on the elimination of the missiles stationed in Europe with Reagan ; on April 14, 1988, the USSR announced its withdrawal from Afghanistan, starting in May 1989.

At the interior level, he tried reforms, announcing in June 1988 his intention to restore a “socialist state of law” and thus to separate the communist Party from the State. This was symbolized by the creation of the function of president of the supreme Soviet – of a head of State – who would be desig­nated by a peoples’ Congress consisting of deputies elected by universal suffrage. He nominated the dissident Andreï Sakharov (creator of the soviet hydrogen bomb), who lived in a surveyed residence far from Moscow, at the presidium of the Academy of Sciences. In February, then in June 1988 the Su­preme Court of the USSR rehabilitated Bukharin and Rykov, later Kamenev and Zinoviev, all assas­sinated at the orders of Stalin, something Khrushchev had not done at the 20th Congress in 1956.

But, moreover, Gorbachev, adheriIdem, note 12, p. 374 – to a more planetary vision, did not make the choice of abandon­ing the parties of the soviet empire who could not be defended. He became caught up in multiple dra­mas : the nuclear catastrophe at Chernobyl, nationalist demands, inter-ethnical wars, bloody pogroms, exaction of mafias intertwined with the secret services over the instrumentalization of the population (selling weapons and drugs). Soon he became condemned, like his regime with communist pretension, because they appeared incapable of keeping order : [12]

“Then, at the end of the 1980s the moment came at which the KGB began to free itself from the Gorbachevian “artistic flow”, and decided to reclaim the initiative. In this decisive chess play, the following coup would be a master’s coup. Influenced for years by a certain Alexan­der Koriakov, a KGB general who served him as a ‘gray eminence’ and as a body guard, Bor­is Yeltsin was chosen as the president of the Russian Federation in 1991 and suddenly found himself in the spotlights. But only the protagonists – the hardliner tendency of the CPSU – and the last unyielding of the KGB, who refused any change – and to whom their texts had been handsomely prompted – would be the actors in the upcoming drama. (…) What fol­lowed is well known. Gorbachev, officially ill, put under house-arrest in his dacha at Foros ; the Swan Lake of Tchaikovsky was broadcasted around the clock by the soviet television ; Boris Yeltsin, who had climbed a tank with the Russian flag in his hands, launched a mes­sage of hope to the country : “The reaction will not succeed ! We will win !” CNN diffused the triumph of democracy live from Moscow. The last act of the Gorbachev era ended with the stepping down of the first and last president of the USSR, after the simulation of a putsch whose staging only was maintained for three days at the international forum.”

With Yeltsin certain modernist fractions of the KGB returned. This episode had to be passed through in order to come back to the heart of the regime, before reconstructing what is realizing itself at present.


4. The genesis of the post-soviet regime

Since 1991, under the Russian Federation, officially no longer any reference whatsoever was made to a power of the Soviets, but in any case their real foundations had been repressed seventy years be­fore by the force of the Bolshevik party (the repression of the Kronstadt uprising in 1921). That is to say that the revolutionary self-activity of the masses in Russia had only lasted four years ! Ever since, the latter ceded its place, under the blows of repression, to a regime that was only “Soviet” by name.

In absence of world revolution, driven back to the “defense of the USSR”, the Bolshevik government identified with the personality of Stalin and could only develop a state capitalism that it fraudulently qualified as “socialism in a single country” or communism. In December 1993 Boris Yeltsin made Gorbachev dissolve the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and adopt the Constitution of the Fed­eral Republic of Russia. The latter proclaimed itself as a parliamentary republic with the Council of the Federation of Russia and the State Duma, in which several parties are seated like the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation. The latter has been rees­tablished in order to play the role of a subsidiary minority force. The President of the Federation, to be elected every four years, is the major personality above the government. Vladimir Putin, after a well managed career in the KGB, and assisted by its companion Medvedev, incarnates this type of presidentialism since the years 2000. The young historian Andrei Kozovoi writes : [13]

“In 1975, Vladimir Putin is a student in civil law at the university of Leningrad in his fourth year, as he finds himself with a proposal to join the KGB. He promptly accepts the offer : becoming a secret agent is an old dream for the future Russian president. Putin joins the KGB in the course of the summer 1975 at the age of twenty-two (…) The events of 1989 – 1990 are determining for the continuation of his career (…) Disap­pointed by the rapid abandonment of the communist values, he decides to return to the USSR. [14] In his speech to the nation of April 2005 he qualifies the disappearance of the USSR as the “biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the twentieth Century” after all (…) Renowned for his loyalty and his qualities as an administrator, Putin is recruited for the presidential administration in June 1996 (…). The rise of Putin in the administration is first and foremost the fact of Yeltsin and his entourage, “the family” to which the former rallies for tactical reasons (…) The amelioration of the image of the Russian intelligence services is also accompanied by a selective rehabilitation of the past. After the return of the hymn, Putin claims the her­itage of Andropov, “builder of a well ordered police state” according to the expression of a historian of Russia, Marc Raeff.”

The current presidential regime refers to the capitalist mode of production and is supported by its most liberal tendencies. But to a large extent it is still attached to state capital­ism, through the structure of its industrial production, which is organized around the gas pipelines like Gazprom, servicing Europe and the Caucasus.

After the implosion of the USSR, in every new post-communist State, the possibility for every citizen to consult his personal file introduced a new morality of governance. The adoption of so-called puri­fication laws and the opening up of the archives of political repression (one of the criteria of a well understood democratization that is extended over years) proceeded according to a same approach of moralizing public life. The ‘lustration’ (from the Latin word lustratio – meaning : ritual purification but also reconciliation) aimed at shedding light on the past of individuals occupying important func­tions within the new State on the road towards democratization, or of individuals susceptible to do so. It purged society from authors of persecutions and crimes of the former regime, by suspending or ex­cluding them from their new political functions. In principle this was not about evicting the “rank and file snitches” but rather about scrutinizing the upper ranks of the political, diplomatic and military hierarchy, who had simultaneously served the political police and the KGB.

These lustration laws resuscitated numerous rows in the old Eastern countries that were confronted with the new European configuration. One of the most serious cases, linked to the reunification of Germany, was that of the Stasi, who possessed important political archives about the inhabitants of the former GDR.

In Poland, following the strikes of 1980 – 1981, many militants, workers and intellectuals, had been filed. For several years they were held to account for their activities. In March 2007, Bronislav Gere­mek (co-founder of Solidarnosc) refused publicly to subject to the new law of lustration broadening the field of application of the law voted ten years before. He did not want to sign once more the declara­tion certifying his non-collaboration with the political police of Poland in the “communist” era. Instead he denounced the present danger of the development of populism and nationalism in the countries of Central Europe. As a member of the European Parliament, joined by Tadeusz Mazowiecki and Vladislav Bartoszevski, he declared about the law : “It wants to subject four hundred thousand to seven hundred thousand individuals to the lustration procedures […] I believe that the lus­tration law in its present form violates the rules of morals and menaces the freedom of expression, the in­dependence of the media, and the autonomy of the universities. It creates a kind of “Ministry of Truth” and a kind of “Memory police”. [15]

In 1998, the year of the terrible financial crisis that shook Russia, Solzhenitsyn had said :

“When I had published my book ‘Russia in ruins’, Boris Yeltsin personally ordered to grant me the highest distinc­tion of the State. I have replied that I could not receive a decoration of the supreme power who had led Russia to this disaster.” In 2007 he declared : “Today the State Prize is given to me not by the president himself, but by a community of the greatest experts. The scientific High Council, composed by the most honored personalities in their domains, worthy of the most profound respect, has proposed my candid­ature, supported by the Council of culture. In his quality of the first man of the State, the president gives me the prize on the day of the national Celebration. Accepting it, I have expressed the hope that the bitter Russi­an experience, which I have studied and described during my whole life, will preserve us from disastrous upheavals in the future. It is true that Vladimir Putin has been an officer of the secret services, but he has not been a prosecutor of the KGB, neither a chief of the Gulag camps. At the international level no coun­try blames the “exterior” services, on the contrary, they are even extolled. For example, nobody has ever reproached George Bush senior of having been the chief of the CIA.”

“Analyzing the thought of Solzhenitsyn in the course of his last years, one is astonished by his curious ambiguity regarding the current powers that be. How could this intellectual, who has played such a de­termining part in anti-communism, still support his former prosecutors and prison guards of the Gu­lag ? How has he been able to keep silent as politicians, journalists, bankers and sportsmen were as­sassinated ? Has his muteness not cautioned, in some way, the poisoning of Victor Yuchenko by diox­ine in 2004, and the recent murder of the admirable journalist Anna Politkovskaia, killed by bullets, or that of Alexander Litvinenko, eliminated by Polonium-210 in the autumn of 2006 ? Among so many others, because the list is rather long...” [16]

In the tradition of the analyses characteristic of Boris Souvarine, Andrei Kozovoi finds that the soviet espionage was more fanatic, thus more dangerous for the “free world”, than that of present Russia. As a disciple he writes :

“At the times of the Soviet Empire the KGB agents were the military arm of a party whose objective was to destabilize the democracies, to jump at all opportunities in order to advance the cause of totalitarianism in the free world (…) “Putinism”, if one can use this term to qualify the ideo­logy at present prevailing at Moscow’s power summit, is only a pale copy of the doctrine of post-war so­viet expansionism.”

Having said this, he does not only attribute the existence of a link between secret police and politics to Russia : [17]

“To see a manifestation of the almost biological link between espionage and power that existed in Russia in both the nomination of Andropov, ancient director of KGB, at the head of the soviet State in 1982, and in that of Putin, ancient agent of the KGB, at the head of the country in 2000, must not make us forget that other countries have done the same : George Bush senior has he not been the patron of the CIA before being elected president in 1989 ?”

Caught up in the international contradictions, sharpened by the economic crisis of 2008, faced with the imperialisms : United States, China, Japan, the Europe of the 27 countries, the post-soviet regime has no longer the status of a great power, even as it still is in possession of the nuclear weapon. This authoritarian re­gime is groping in order to restore its imperialist power by basing itself, if necessary, on the values of the past, whether Stalinist or czarist.

Guy Sabatier, April 2011.

First published in : Controverses, Cahier Thématique No. 1, November 2011 .
Translated from French : Jacob Johanson, October 2014.

Footnote references cite French sources, except when explicitly noted otherwise.


[1Stéphane Courtois, Dictionnaire du Communisme, Larousse, 2007 : 60. Research Director at the CNRS – Paris X. He was the co-author of the Black-book on communism influenced by the historical analyses of Boris Souvarine.

[2Nikolai Bukharin and Evgenii Preobrazhensky, The ABC of Communism, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Eng­land, 1969 : p. 203. The translation from Russian by Eden and Cedar Paul was originally published in England in 1922.

[3Headed by Felix Dzerzhinsky, who had been an old time friend of Rosa Luxemburg and Leo Jogiches in the Polish Left.

[4Herbert George Wells, La Russie dans l’hombre, éditions Métailié, Paris, p. 37 – 111.

[5Idem, Moscow 1934, entretien avec Staline et dernière rencontre avec Gorki, p. 165 / 189. (Conversation with Stalin and last encounter with Gorky)

[6Idem, p. 173.

[7Jean-Jacques Marie, Khrouchtchev – La reforme impossible, éditions Payot, Paris, 2010, p. 548.

[8Idem, p. 548-49.

[9Idem, p. 181.

[10Idem, p. 181.

[11Hélène Blanc et Renata Lesnik : Les prédateurs du Kremlin (1917 – 2009), Éditions du Seuil, Paris, 2009, p. 89.

[12Idem, p. 226 -227. On November 17 and 24, 2007, the emission “Monsieur X” on France-Inter analyzed the taking of power by the ex-KGB, basing itself on two books : “Le temps des assasins” by Y. Feltchinski and A. Litvinenko (éditions Calmann-Levy) and : “Le parrain du Kremlin. Boris Berezovski et le pillage de la Russie”, éditions Robert Laffont.

[13Andreï Kozovoi, Les services secrets russes – Des tsars à Poutine, éditions Tallandier, Paris, 2010, p. 321 – 324.

[14At the beginning of 1990 he returns from Germany to Leningrad in order to become adjunct in international affairs to the director of the University of Leningrad.

[15Ibidem, p. 134.

[16Ibidem, p. 86 – 91.

[17Idem, note 12, p. 374 – 376.