Geopolitically, America is an island off the shores of the large landmass of Eurasia, whose resources and population far exceed those of the United States. The domination by a single power of either of Eurasia’s two principal spheres – Europe or Asia – remains a good definition of strategic danger for America, Cold War or no Cold War. . (Henry Kissinger – Diplomacy (page 813- Simon & Schuster 1994)
Did Most Russians Want the Soviet Union to Break Up?
It would be appropriate to begin with stating a fact that it is rarely, if ever, mentioned in the Western media. Namely, that a referendum was held in the countries of the Soviet Union on March17, 1991, with just one question.
Do you consider necessary the preservation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics, where in full measure the rights and freedom of a member of any nationality will be guaranteed? (Translation from the Russian by the author of this article – text of the question in Russian given below.)
76.4% voted “yes” to this question.
For more details please see the referendum
The question that presents itself from the perspective of a western observer who has been fed anti-Soviet, then anti-Russian propaganda is – why did these hundreds of millions of people vote this way?
It is because the system, in spite of all its shortcomings, provided citizens of the Soviet Union with the following – all of which can be referenced in The Constitution:
Housing: after working in a state plant for 3 to 5 years, the working person was provided with an apartment. The apartments were not huge affairs but sufficient for more or less comfortable living, while electricity, heating and water costs were negligible. The larger the family the bigger the apartment. (Article 44 of the 1977 constitution) Jobs: Nobody was without work in the USSR. This was against the law, so everybody had a job. (Article 40 of the 1977 constitution)
Free education: This was provided from kindergarten through university, with free sport, scientific and art facilities for children and youth. I personally benefited from this by training as a runner and going for mountain climbing and scuba diving in the summers during my student years (notwithstanding that I was a foreign student), all of course free of charge. (Articles 45 and 41 of the 1977 constitution)
Free medical care, where each person was registered in a clinic in his place of residence and was directed to specialized hospitals when necessary. (Article 42 of the 1977 constitution)
The scientific achievements were based on a wide network of research institutes related to academic establishments, industrial plants and the military. The scientific and engineering community as well as highly skilled labor employed hundreds of thousands of people working in towards these ends. The advances in the fundamental sciences (Noble laureates in physics in 1958, 1962 and 1964), the use of nuclear engineering for peace, the first atom power station, the first atom icebreaker, the space program, Sputnik, first man in space (Yuri Gagarin), to name a few. The shortcoming of this system was the time lag between the creation of an idea and its realization. The system was built on meritocracy, and people of talent from all over the Soviet Union had access to the best available education and the possibility to work in science and engineering. Workers were encouraged to complete their higher education degrees in evening university and were allowed time off for exams and other studies. Added to all this was the concept that working in science was a romantic vocation. People threw themselves into this work whole-heartedly, and it was attractive to the youth. There existed an intellectual atmosphere that was electric.
The arts and humanities flourished. Great books were written, novels, poetry reflecting the life of the Soviet people and their struggle, including the books about the Great Patriotic War (WWII) – Mikhail Sholokhov’s (СУДЬБА ЧЕЛОВЕКА – The Fate of a Man). I reread this book during the first Gulf War in Baghdad and I was not ashamed of the tears in my eyes. The novels were about the different aspects of life – the contradictions, the urge to forge ahead and the problems holding people back. Poetry was at its strongest moment during my student years in the 60s in Moscow. Huge numbers of students gathered to hear a poet recite their work.
The literature of the various Soviet republics burst on the scene in such vivid colors and the writers became a permanent fixture in the lives of the Soviet people. Many of them, like Chinggis Aitmatov, Rasul Gamzatov, Fazil Iskendar, became household names. The best performers of classical music, ballet and opera were all within a student’s budget, especially if they purchased a seasonal ticket. There were dances at the students’ hostels, while in the parks people would dance to the orchestras playing popular music on Saturdays and Sundays. Wonderful films were made, bursting with humanity, as well as comedies that are loved and remembered till the present day.
This was a time of intense translation from most of the languages of the world to Russian. This was a monumental undertaking. A popular, special magazine, Foreign Literature, published the majority of the works of progressive (and not so progressive) writers.
The democracy that prevailed in the Soviet Union differs from the Western concept. It is built not on the farce of the U.S. two-party system where you can hardly differentiate between the two.
Soviet Democracy was a democracy that envisaged direct election by secret ballot of individuals who were nominated at grass-roots meetings in plants, institutes, factories, and on collective farms because of the delegate’s services, abilities and talents to Soviet councils of different levels.
It’s important to note that nearly one third of the deputies were women. I can hardly see the U.S. Congress or even the French Parliament matching this statistic in 1974 and perhaps even today.
A socialist humanity
I could go on, but there was something besides this that cannot be touched or counted, this was the feeling of security and confidence that your tomorrow was guaranteed, the state was your state and it was there to defend you. Working people were respected and in high demand. The state functioned with a philosophy at its base that is different from that of the West. At its base was the welfare of its citizens and defense of the country. There was this enormous structure – including economic and cultural – that bound these different nations together. It was cemented by communist ideology and the common struggle during the Great October Revolution, The Civil War and the Great Patriotic War (WWII).
Western media rarely writes about the type of human being that a socialist system produces. This is a being that understands that the material part of life, especially money and profit, is important but not all-important and definitive. They understand that there is more to life than this, that exploitation of other human beings and nations is wrong, that peace is the thing that we should prize the most, and that the solidarity of working people should be supported and cultivated. That we should always stand up against injustice.
I do not aim to present the image of a Russian utopia. But taking into consideration the odds that the country was up against, the wars it had to fight during those nearly 70 years, the achievements are truly remarkable and looked upon with some awe. Problems of economic development on a unique course included the constant pressure of maintaining a military able to defend the country in case of attack, human frailty, red tape, and disillusionment.
I will not dwell on the reasons of the collapse nor go into the intricate details of modern Russian politics, but try in broad strokes give a picture of the main tendencies.
The Shock Doctrine of Market Fundamentalism Invades Russia
The human rights debate started out as an appeal for wielding American influence to improve the treatment of Soviet citizens but graduated into a strategy for forcing a Soviet domestic upheaval. (Henry Kissinger – Diplomacy, Simon & Schuster 1994)
Cultural domination has been an underestimated facet of American global power. Whatever one may think of an aesthetic values, America’s mass culture exercises a magnetic appeal, especially on the world’s youth (Zbigniew Brezezezinski-The Grand Chessboard)
Historically, the current economic block of the Russian establishment appeared on the wave of the “shock” reforms proposed by Western “specialists” and are still dominant on the scene in spite of the fact that their most odious figures are gone or occupy minor posts. It would need many volumes to describe how western “organizations” such as the IMF and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, as well as a host of lesser entities, rushed to the scene to exploit the disorder and lawlessness that prevailed. The sinister part of this feeding frenzy, of which I was sometimes a direct witness in my capacity as a translator, was its aim in destroying through various schemes the military might of the country. Huge complexes were singled out to be dismantled that had been the pride of the country.
This economic block of the state, instead of applying the dividends received from the oil and gas sector to work in modernizing and bringing industry and the infrastructure up to date were deposited instead in various ways into Western banks. This tendency has its active opponent in the left – especially the Communists who are one of the few that have a coherent program for change and making the economy serve the people.
Russia managed to drag itself away from the brink even after the humiliation of the Gorbachev-Yeltsin years and the movement of NATO to the East. It persevered even in the face of of the establishment of military bases along Russian borders, the “advisors” from the West applying “Shock Therapy”, the machinations of the IMF and the European Bank,
Fortunately, not everyone was ready to sell his country, and this course was reversed during Primakov’s term as prime minister. The country made a superhuman effort to rid itself of these leeches, especially after Vladimir Putin became president. The state is the main employer and provider of all the essentials of life starting with security and ending with apartments.
The Class Struggle in Russia
The biggest internal contradiction that is pulling the Russian state in two different directions is that it aspires to be a welfare state with some kind of social justice, while the economy is functioning on its own as a “wild” capitalist state.
There are struggles between classes, which include the oligarchy, the managerial office employees, and entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs consist of a small urban minority concentrated in the big Russian cities who are very vocal with a high concentration of wealth, power and access to mass media, strong ties to the West. They are connected to various NGOs, and are against the majority of the population of Russia and include people working on big projects related to the Military Industrial Complex, the oil and gas sector, the timber sector and more.
The majority of the working class, including engineer and technical personnel who are not related to the financial sector directly, has a different outlook of how Russia should proceed in its movement to the future. The masses supporting the left and patriotic forces in Russia come from this class. This segment of the population has a more developed political awareness and is better able to see the dangers of finance capitalism as well as the dangers of the repetition of the economic crises of 2008 and 1998 that directly affected their livelihood and savings. These masses are the force supporting the Russian state; they see their country moving towards a more left-leaning patriotic course. They are more immune to western ideas and propaganda than those working as entrepreneurs or in the financial sector.
The void that was left in the minds of people after the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 90s was quickly filled by religion and nationalism. The discussion below addresses the time period commencing from the early 90s to the present. National and confessional differences accordingly emerged.
Typically, political scientists distinguish patriotism from nationalism by saying patriotism is the willingness to defend one’s own country against attacks. Nationalism, on the other hand is the aggressive stance of a state, which seeks to expand at the expense of other countries. A casual look at the history of what I will broadly call the West and Russia shows a more or less clear pattern of why Russian citizens are patriotic.
– The Battle on the Ice was fought between the Republic of Novgorod, led by Prince Alexander Nevsky and the crusader army led by the Livonian branch of the Teutonic Knights on April 5, 1242
– Battle of Poltava, (8 July 1709), the decisive victory of Peter I the Great of Russia over Charles XII of Sweden in the Great Northern War
– In 1812 Napoleon gathered the largest army of all times, of about 600,000 men from 24 controlled countries to invade Russia. 172 day later they had to withdraw. 400,000 soldiers were either killed or captured.
-The Russian Civil War in the aftermath of the Great October Revolution, where the West fought either directly or by sending expeditionary armies (11 western countries including the US and Japan)
(1918–20), conflict in which the Red Army successfully defended the newly formed Bolshevik government led by Vladimir I. Lenin against various Russian and interventionist anti-Bolshevik armies.
-The Second World War, or as it is known in Russia, The great Patriotic War 1941 -1945, and the defeat of fascist Germany after enormous sacrifices.
It is difficult to explain to people who have not lived in Russia long enough to understand their attitude to the Great Patriotic War – The Second World War is still a gaping wound, the enormous price that was paid in lives and material cannot be overstated. Millions sacrificed their lives not only for their country, but for the liberation of Europe from fascism. The fact that the majority of the European countries collaborated with Nazi Germany and provided it with man power, raw materials and equipment is a fact, as well as all the dubious activities at the end of the war of negotiating a separate peace of the West with Nazi Germany. The following statistics extracted from a table show where the war was fought and won: Axis History
Patriotism is ingrained in the Russian conscious, due to the geographical location of the country, its turbulent history and its unique culture. This feeling especially came to the forefront during WWII. The patriotism of those years was not built around an ethnos (although that also had its place) but more around the concept of the Soviet fatherland. The current patriotism is concentrated around Russia as a fatherland, and the Russian ethnos. The pressure of the west in its attempt to humiliate, destroy and divide Russia will only consolidate the people.
Patriotism Inflamed as Western Media Revises Russian history
Whenever Western media tries to revise the history of the war or belittles the role of the Red Army, there will be a strong reaction from Russian people. This is a red line. Even Russian “liberals” have, to a degree understood this lesson. When Russian people communicate with Americans on a personal level whose knowledge of historic events as well as geography is, let us say average, they are surprised and dismayed by the fact that Americans think that they won the war on their own.
In the years preceding the collapse of the Soviet Union and after its collapse, there was a strong movement to revise history, to portray the Great October Revolution, the victory of the Red army over Nazi Germany, planning economy, Soviet culture, films and literature in the worst possible manner. Some members of the intelligentsia who knowingly or unknowingly played into the hands of Western imperialism picked up this tendency. Nationalism reared its ugly head, Russians were told that they would be better off without the various republics feeding off them. The republics were told that they would do better by ejecting any Russians living there.
Taking into consideration the statements of the “patriarchs” and the historical processes, we can arrive at the conclusion that relations of the West and Russia were rarely amicable. In the multi-polar world of the 19th century this was true even more so. But the contradictions of the West reached its peak of rejection and animosity towards the young Soviet state from the beginning of the 20th century until its collapse at its end.
The dehumanization and vilification of modern Russia and the Soviet Union is an ongoing process that has existed for the last one hundred years with a brief reprieve during the Second World War. Even a casual look at the political and cultural history clearly demonstrates that. Any book, novel, economical investigation, scientific discovery that had a hint of anti-Soviet content was duly encouraged. An economic warfare was maintained. “The economic war against Soviet Russia began in December 1917, when Russia’s former Entente allies declared a trade and maritime blockade on her. With a few brief intervals (first and foremost during World War II), the economic war against the Soviet state continued right up until the collapse of the USSR in December 1991. The West also carried out an economic war against other socialist countries.” Strategic Culture
Cultural Caricatures of Russians
The James Bond and Mafia syndrome
I will endeavor to discuss a theme that may seem trivial and irrelevant, but in reality it is a complicated psychological issue related to how Americans portray Russians, the stereotypes that are created and how the stereotype is taken on by the original and recycled. Imagine a picture of a country cold, dotted with labor camps, inhabited with moody, fanatical people supervised by mustachioed tyrants. This is a pretty good caricature painted by the yellow press and both American political parties.
There has been a steady flow of novels and films portraying the arrival of any person from the West to Russia as a hero, saving civilization meanwhile engaging in sexual escapades with Russian women who simply cannot hold out against the charms of agent 007. I have seen this scenario played out in tens of books and films with various degrees of subtlety and sophistication. A whole culture has been created around this. To my amusement some of my Western friends joined this chorus and also saw themselves as potential Bonds, this middle aged balding guy with a paunch. The adolescent phase in life, where you live in a fantasy world, where with your achievements of being a professional engineer or businessman you re-count the touchdown you made when you were on the high school team, never seems to leave the American male. The minds of millions of people all over the world are inundated with this nonsense until it has become a firmly established pseudo-reality.
The Soviet-Russian people were somewhat immune to the Bond phenomena. They had heroes of their own who could stand up to anything the West had to offer since they were authentic and built on real people fighting against fascism. Books were published and films were made in the Soviet Union that became extremely popular. The TV serial Семна́дцать мгнове́ний весны́ – Seventeen Spring Moments first shown on Soviet TV in 1973 and popular to this day is an example.
This was not the case in modern Russia after the collapse. The West tries to portray the emigrants from Russia (especially to the US) as thugs, hoodlums and pimps. They are all jailbirds who were sentenced for long periods in Siberia for their crimes. They are all covered by tattoos that have special meanings and are absolutely merciless. There is a sub-culture of jails and camps for criminals, a particular outlook on life with their own songs and slang throughout Soviet and Russian history. The West is using this sub culture for its own ends. This has created an impression on certain parts of Russian society. They are proud of their “tough” criminals, and even boast about them. Some Russians have internalized this when they emulate these monsters that Hollywood presents as role models. The Russian Mafia becomes a terrifying and merciless, all-powerful organization. In fact, the majority of the Russians who emigrated or traveled to the US where highly qualified engineers, scientist and programmers who ended up working in information technology or academia. Naturally the Western media rarely, if ever, mentions this.
The media then portrays this Russian Mafia in an especially despicable manner as people who trade their own women. Now the scene is set for the American hero on the way killing untold numbers of dumb, cruel Russians, to come to the rescue of the Russian women. Films and books like this have been pumped out for the last 20 years. The Russian attitude towards this is a puzzled amusement that turns to anger. There are vocal opponents, and Hollywood has made a formidable one in the Russian Church.
How Russian Women are Portrayed in Western Media
Let me begin by making a statement that is arguable but has a right to be made. The chastity of Russian culture is a prominent feature, whether in painting, where it would be difficult to find anything of the exuberance of the renaissance or of later trends that glorified the human body. This was true up till the 20th century. It is equally true for literature to some extent. This can be seen in all the great works of the 19th and early 20th century. The only significant work of literature that comes to mind with erotic content is Ivan Bunin’s Тёмные Аллеи – Dark Alleys. Please note that alley in its Russian context implies a path shaded by trees in a park and not a narrow filthy street in an urban environment. The stories were written when Bunin was an émigré in Grasse/France in 1937-1944. The culture of a strict patriarchal society governed by the church was in place then in Czarist Russia. During Soviet times no special emphasis was placed on the role of sex. Things changed drastically after the fall of the Soviet Union.
If, during Soviet times, Russian-Soviet women were portrayed in the Western media as muscular and masculine in unbecoming suits, always barking orders, suddenly they changed to cheap prostitutes in the backstreets of Western cities, exploited by their own countrymen and saved only by a real American man – preferably white. Unfortunately, Russian culture and media has been unable to come up an anti-dote to this image.
The reaction of Russian women to this is one of outrage. The majority of Russian women consider themselves superior to their sisters in the West. They are not particularly involved in feminist movements simply because a large segment consider that they are much better than men, whether mentally or physically, because they can bear pain and hard work better than men. To them, equality would mean pulling themselves down to the level of men rather than raising themselves up. In addition to being the majority of teachers and doctors, as well as the medium level bureaucrats, they are the leaders of the family. The Grandmother (Babushka) is an institution by herself. Most of them wholly dedicate their lives to their grandchildren. It is not uncommon to see in a Moscow metro an old lady carrying a bag with hockey equipment and dragging her grandson to a training session, or to a musical lesson.
They therefore look down upon women who just want to enjoy themselves. They simply see this as a meaningless life. This segment that I mentioned also considers that women are to blame in family conflicts because since they are much smarter and more intelligent than men they should always keep things under control. The assumption is that it was their own mothers and grandmothers who fought in the Great Patriotic War and were nurses, snipers and pilots of rickety planes that flew night raids, and it was they who bore the burden of re-building the country. It is within this worldview that they regard Western women.
The Soviet system was unable to withstand the cultural domination that Brzezinski mentioned. The official state alternative had no appeal to the young; this all became more or less evident starting from the 60s in the 20th century. Even the protest movement of the left in the West including is bards and poets was twisted in a special way in the USSR. However, the seeds of discord were sown, and many members of the intelligentsia tread the path from fair criticism to total negation in the 80s.
- NATSHA AND BORIS BADENOFF: From Rocky and Bullwinkle – The purpose of the image at the beginning of this article is to demonstrate American propaganda at work with the stereotypes of Russians that children watch and internalize through adulthood.