What happened to the Communist Party members after the fall of the USSR?

Almost the entire top tier of Russian politics consists of former members of the ruling Communist party of the Soviet Union. They have proved their conversion to champions of Capitalism. They all are very wealthy now.

The Communist Party of the Soviet Union was banned by Yeltsin in 1991, and remained illegal for about a year. Hardcore Communists, who still believed in the ideology, formed the Communist party of Russian Federation as well as a few smaller parties and fractions.

Technically, it makes Putin and the other rulers past members of an illegal far-left political entity as per Nov 6, 1991. There are no records of their Communist allegiance after that date.

Boris Yeltsin, his team and other Communists who eyed new, bigger opportunities in the Capitalist Russia, threw out their membership cards and went on building their new careers. Some of them, like President Putin and his friends, ultimately became the super rich rulers of the modern Russian state-oligarchical system.

Here’s an abridged list of top politicians, bureaucrats and managers in today’s Russia who were card-carrying Party members under Soviet rule.

  • President Putin, member of the Communist Party of Soviet Union (CPSU) since 1975.
  • Valentina Matviyenko, head of the upper chamber of Russian parliament: member of the CPSU since 1972.
  • Sergey Naryshkin, Director of the Foreign Intelligence Service: member of the CPSU since 1976.
  • Dmitry Medvedev, PM: member of the CPSU since 1986
  • Sergey Shoygu, defense minister: member of the CPSU since 1979.
  • Sergey Lavrov, foreign minister: member of the CPSU since 1972.
  • Sergey Sobyanin, mayor of Moscow: member of the CPSU since 1986.
  • Alexander Bortnikov, FSB chief: member of the CPSU since 1975.
  • Yury Chaika, Putin’s chief prosecutor: member of the CPSU since 1976.
  • Igor Sechin, Putin’s oil czar: member of the CPSU since 1990.
  • Anatoly Chubais, Putin’s innovation czar: member of the CPSU since 1980.
  • Anton Siluanov, Putin’s economy czar: member of the CPSU since 1989.
  • Vyacheslav Volodin, Putin’s former spin master, now chairman in the lower chamber of Duma: member of the CPSU since 1985.
  • Vladislav Surkov, Putin’s special envoy in charge of Ukraine, former spin master: member of the CPSU since 1985.
  • Tatyana Golikova, Putin’s chief auditor: member of the CPSU since 1986.
  • Valery Zorkin, Chairman of the Constitutional Court: member of the CPSU since 1970.

Putin as a fashion statement

The photo below shows a creation of a Putin fan, a UAE designer Mona al Mansouri.

President Putin is presented on the dress as a winged angel in his signature white judo getup. He is surrounded by cherub, one of which holds above his head a laurel wreath. The orb of the Earth he’s holding in his hand suggests the wreath is being given to him by heavenly powers as a savior of the world.

We had a lot of friends across the world in the Soviet era, too. But this is something new, what appeared first in the post-Soviet period.

Back during Soviet rule, the sympathy to our country was mostly ideologically based—because we promoted the anti-Capitalist, anti-Imperialist politics.

Today, it’s much more focused on Putin personally, or on the image of Russian military might, or the picture of Russia as a guardian of “white European” legacy. I don’t remember a single case in my time in the 1970s of 1980s when someone loved what we do because our General Secretaries “looked like real men”, or our military was considered “cool”.

Soviet WW2 propaganda and the Allies’ war effort

The Allied war effort in WW2 was the area where Soviet propaganda always observed factual accuracy. However, it was always framed as an auxiliary chapter, incomparable to the role of the USSR. Information about the lend-lease was patchy, and presented in such a way where only specialists could assess its significance.

The guidelines for the Soviet propaganda concerning the Allies and their contribution to the victory in WWII were rather unchanged throughout the whole post-war history:

  • The outcome of the war was decided by the USSR, with some help from the Allies. Their fear of Hitler made them overcome their previous anti-Sovietism. (But not for long).
  • The whole thing was called The Great Patriotic War 1941–1945. WWII before that was a separate war between Germany and the Capitalist France and Great Britain who unsuccessfully had tried to direct the German aggression toward the USSR. The Western front was opened in Bretagne in 1944, not in France 1939.
  • There was some delivery of weapons, equipment and food, on a commercial basis, called lend-lease. Many British and American men died transporting it over the Atlantic. We appreciate their sacrifice.

Below, you see a typical Soviet propaganda poster about the Allied effort in WWII at the bottom of my posting. The Soviet soldier takes the central, most prominent place, the American and British are sort of escorting him to battle, or trying to cover behind his back. No sign of anything suggesting the lend-lease deliveries.

The lend-lease itself was not a secret. But it was largely reduced to footnotes and short secondary chapters in the history books. The whole scale of it, especially the food component of the help, became known to the public first in the late 1980s, right before the USSR collapsed.

If my memory serves me right, my dad mentioned once or twice Soviet posters in English that were made in the USSR celebrating the British military transports to Arkhangelsk. They were intended for display in places visited during the war by the Allied diplomats and military. So far, I haven’t seen any of them.

Picture: “The Red Army, together with the armies of our allies will break the back of the Fascist beast (Iosif Stalin)“.

“Girl and her Red Army Trooper”

The picture below “Girl and her Red Army Trooper” was painted in 1920 by Samuel Adlivankin. It shows a Communist soldier spending quality time with a working lady over a Marxist study book.

The book cover says: “Politics 101”. The man is wearing the distinctive uniform of the Red Army. Red troopers inherited it from the Imperial army in WW1. The nationalist designers made a pointy hat to mimic the medieval helms of Rus warriors. The red razgovóry across the chest also mimicked the ethnic decoration from the pre-Imperial era of Muscovy.

The man’s boots are most probably taken from the military supplies sent by the Allied powers to the Czar and the Provisional Government, and taken by local Soviet troops from busted warehouses around the country. The wall is adorned by a portrait of Karl Marx. The phonograph and the sofa were most probably confiscated from counter-revolutionary elements for the benefit of exploited masses.

The USSR and universal health care

The Soviet experience confirmed that even with the best of efforts health care ends us just like any competitive race. Even though all the runners in a race start equal, they finish unequal.

I lived both under the real Socialism and Capitalism, so I have sort of 3D optics on the issue of universal health care.

Impractical beauty

Universal health care is one of particular implementation of equality. As such, I view equality very much like heavenly sex. It’s perfectly possible, people have experienced it, and everyone have pretty much the idea what it is like. Yet, it’s a very, very elusive animal. The problem is, it doesn’t last long, it’s very hard to get to, it’s often very impractical, and most attempts to get there are doomed to end up in an abject failure.

“Health for all”

With health care, you are in the same situation as with universal education, and universal security: there’s no way any society can have “too much” of it. Unlike good sex, there’s no natural limit to how much of it we can take before we say: “This is simply too good, we must put a limit to it.”

In addition, we’re all awfully unequal in health. Some people are born perfectly healthy, never catch as much as a flu, live to 100, no problem. Many more people are in need of health care throughout the whole life. Also, there are hypochondriacs. On top of it, there are too many people who knowingly try to abuse the system.

The Implementation Hell

Communists in the USSR hit the problem pretty much right away when they introduced the universal health care. As long as it was about pretty basic things like maternal care, shots for kids, fixing broken limbs and bandaging wounds, it worked decently. But once we went up in quality and scope, we ran into the same darned problem as the US:

  • some people contributed much without getting back what they needed when they needed it
  • some people needed much more than the system could afford to provide
  • some people abused the system
  • some people used their privilege to get access to more (or much more) than the contributed themselves

Useful slogan

The Soviet experience suggests that health care issue is destined to remain a bottomless source of inspiration for populist politicians. It will go on as long as we won’t know how to make our bodies smooth reparable machines on a simple malfunction insurance plan.

Below, a poster from the 1930s: “He is a malingerer. He’s fine, but fakes illness, to shirk from work on insurance. He steals from the genuinely ill and fails the work requirements.”

Is there “Putin’s Doctrine” in Russia’s foreign policy?

Russia’s policy is patently free of ideologies. It’s highly transactional, seeks tactical wins wherever possible and aims at disrupting the policies of the US and other “hostile” Western powers across the world.

When it comes for Russia’s foreign policy, unlike the former Soviet Union, it’s not based on a coherent ideology. What makes it distinct, it’s shaped by our President and has Putin’s fingerprints all over it.

President Putin is known as an accomplished tactician, with a visceral distaste for ideologies. His line is best described by the word disruption. He reads into the strategic intent of his opponents—for the time being, the US and NATO—and takes measures to disrupt their actions. Its initial objective has been to enforce a sort of a New Yalta deal on the US and NATO.

Deploying the instruments of disruptive power, Putin and his aides often call it “asymmetrical response”. The idea is to annoy and weaken the enemy to the point when he gives up and decides it makes more sense to sit down and negotiate than to continue the confrontation.

You can see it in the stuff produced by RT and Sputnik, in the heightened activity of the radical left and far right in Europe and USA, in the consequent Russian obstruction of Western global agenda, the hacker attacks. This is all ways to compensate for our economic weakness and lack of international allies.

The Germans showed considerable disruptive power in their submarine war in the Atlantic during WWII. Submarines can’t win wars, but they hugely facilitate strategic wins, as they did for the US in the grand Pacific battle of WWII. You may want to read more about disruptive power if you google the name of researcher Frances Fox Piven.

How to spot Putin’s hidden successor

Predictive analysis of recent Russian and Soviet history points at three attributes that the future master of the Kremlin is required to have.

The name of Putin’s possible successor in the Kremlin is impossible to know, because the man himself doesn’t seem to prepare his exit. Anyone serious enough to claim their ambition would subject themselves to serious adversity.

However, based on the Russian and Soviet history, we may predict where to look for this person’s name. This will be someone who combines all of the following three attributes:

  1. He knows how to lie low and bid his/her time. “Don’t look conspicuous, it draws fire / Try to look unimportant, they may be low on ammo.” (—Murphy’s Laws of Combat).
  2. He is a part of Putin’s inner circle, or someone a step or two lower on the ladder, with a noticeable performance record in the state bureaucracy.
  3. He is personally very wealthy, or has access to an ample war chest through his family or personal friends.

This person may come to power either immediately after Putin, or as a successor after one or two transitional figures, like Dmitri Medvedev. Medvedev himself is too weak and doesn’t have his own power base).

There is also some chance of a “non-systemic” opposition leader coming to power (think Alexey Navalny). But this requires a physical removal of Putin from the Kremlin, which may happen only as a result of a dramatic split in his inner circle. Right now, I consider the chance of it considerably less than 0.1.

Stalinism and Dostoevsky

Dostoevsky’s works are often quoted by Stalinists and anti-Communists alike to score points against each other.

Dostoevsky didn’t know much about radical Marxism, at the time just an obscure strand of a wide plethora of Socialist ideas. Instead, it was Anarchism and the accompanying concept of individual terror that captivated many minds among the urban youth. The edge of Dostoevsky’s social critique was directed against its Russian followers, who he generally associated with Liberals and other admirers of the contemporary Europe.

The novel Demons is dedicated particularly against what Dostoevsky viewed as the blight of progressivism. The piece was written by Dostoevsky some 50 years before Stalin came to power. The story is about a group of revolutionaries who plot to kill one of them, suspected of intended treason.

The novel has been profusely quoted by Stalinists and anti-Communists alike to score points against each other.

  • Stalinists of the imperial bend agree with Dostoyevsky’s view that progressism typically germinates in people from some kind of a deep psychological issue, a fundamental personality flaw, and reveals an ongoing moral rot in those affected
  • Nationalists hold against Stalin his allegiance to Communism, a Western idea imported by haters and detractors of the traditional Russia. Dostoyevsky didn’t spare bad words in Demons to express his repulsion at admirers of all things European.
  • Liberals love Dostoyevsky’s signature expression “the administrative bliss” (elation that bureaucrats experience when exersising their power on commoners). They use it to stress the potential of unlimited power abuse inherent to Stalin’s totalitarianism, and the vestiges of it in Putinist Russia.

Dostoevsky pioneered the Russian expression demokratícheskaya svóloch (“democratic scum”) that many Stalin admirers and Putin loyalists like to apply to our liberals and their foreign soulmates. Stalin himself never used it—but it adequately describes his opinion of the proponents of Western-style democracies.

Picture: “Demons”, Sarra Shor’s attempt to visualize Dostoevsky’s idea of Russian liberals, anarchists, and admirers of the West. Stalin didn’t like the book. The entire edition with her illustrations was destroyed in 1935.

USSR 2.0: A possibility?

Saving the country by ditching the Communist project was a project that the Soviet reformers ran aground. Putin had great success in turning Russia the way they tried to change the USSR.

Soviet Communism has compromised itself to the degree that even hard-boiled Stalinists find it necessary to recreate it with a serious upgrade. A multi-ethnic empire without the Communists is a different matter, though.

President Putin has been recreating on the territory of Russia something we could for simplicity call a sort of a Soviet-Union-with-shopping-malls-instead-of-Communism for some time now. Looking back, we discern parallels between today’s Russia and long-term visions of Andropovites. They were technocrats and intellectuals in the service of the KGB in the 1960s-80s who prepared a kind of China-like transition to Capitalism in “Socialist” clothes.

President Putin has achieved a considerable success where the Andropovites failed. This proves that some form of the “old USSR” in 1990s was salvageable.

Three big caveats, though:

  1. Ethnic nationalism in the colonies around the southern and western rim. This is what brought down the USSR in 1991. China didn’t have to grapple with that. Ukraine and Belarus could have been retained, but hardly the rest.
  2. Oil prices. Everyone is blaming Yeltsin and his dodgy American counselors for the chaos in the 1990s. The question is how someone like Putin would have made it with his state pockets empty back then. Putin’s approach to every problem has always ample money in it. I seriously question Putin’s ability to manage serious challenges on a shoestring.
  3. If Communists and radical nationalists (“the Red-Browns” of Khasbulatov, Rutskoy, or Ziuganov variation) had reclaimed power in 1992, 1993 or 1996, the USSR 2.0 wouldn’t have a chance by now. Imagine everything what Yeltsin is now blamed for, plastered all over the Soviet old-timers. Russia would have been in NATO and EU by now.

Three beasts that killed the USSR

There were three basic factors that brought down the USSR:

  1. The system exhausted sources for the economic growth. From the late 1970s onward, the economic inputs in the Soviet Union started to surpass the economic outputs. With the drop in oil prices in the 1980s, we ran out of reserves to compensate for the inefficiencies inherent to our centrally-planned model (see the graph below).
  2. Sharp rise of ethnic nationalism, starting with the Jeltoqsan riots in 1986.
  3. Military setbacks amid the dramatic escalation of arms race: the Afghan war, Operation Mole Cricket 19, the impossibility to match the increasing technology gap in the latest military technologies. This created an enormous pressure to close the gap, which made the top elite start casting around for new approaches. That’s how the Perestroika and Glasnost weren’t shot down right from the outset.