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.

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.”

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.

Computers in the USSR: a promise of the see-all, know-all central brain

Creation of an all-encompassing, ubiquitous national data network that would compute plans and quotas and survey their implementation was a grand dream of Soviet progressivists after WW2. The bureaucracy liked the idea of omniscience, but didn’t want machine brains substitute their own.

Starting in the early 1950s, many Soviet researchers were very upbeat about computers and mainframe networks.

A high-ranking scientist Viktor Glushkov came in the late 1950s with a blueprint for an All-State Automated System for the purposes of Soviet planning and reporting. It would be a vast digital network with 20,000 mainframes at major industrial units, with 300,000 operators, linked to hundreds of regional administrative centers, who then would be pushing the data to a processing hub in Moscow. The proposal was to roll it out over 30 years, and spend on it $335 million at today’s prices.

The Soviet leaders came to consider the plan first in 1970. They radically scaled it down to a few thousand mainframes, not connected. After repeatedly failing over the following years to revive interest in his plan, Glushkov succumbed to the theory that his problems were caused by a sabotage from American spies. He died in 1982, by which time Yuri Andropov, the new Soviet crown prince, had already pinned his hopes for economic renewal on limited market liberalization, an approach that rendered the concept of a computerized command economy redundant.

Where the rivalry between Russia and Poland comes from?

Historically, Poland long occupied the central position in Eastern Europe that made it in the eyes of Russia a rival as the “main Slav nation”.

The relationship between Russia/Soviet and Poland changed several times. “Rivalry” would be the most fitting word to describe it.

The fundamental reason for the rivalry is geography. After the demise of the Bysantine empire, the main connection with Europe for us was Poland. Further south, sit the Carpathian mountains that separate us from the rest of Slavs. Poles occupy the plains between us and Germany.

This central position gave Poland a unique role as the “main” Slav nation in Europe for many centuries. What is now Ukraine and Belarus, was long a part of the Polish-Lithuanian state. Much of the German influence came to us through Poland, before the Russian empire began a wholesale import of German officers and engineers from the Baltics and Prussia in the XVIII century.

In other words, the role of the great Slav empire required of Russia to get rid of Poland. Poles, on their part, in the XVI and XVII got an appetite for the lucrative Russian fur exports. This resulted in several wars, and the funny situation when Poles for a short period of time became nominal Czars of Russia.

The rivalry twice culminated in a destruction of the Polish state, with Russia and the Soviet Union annexing the eastern part of their country. Many Poles were included in our ruling elites, but many more actively fought for independence. Uprisings in the XIX century, the revolutionary war of 1919–1920, Stalin’s ethnic cleansings during the Great Terror, and the partition of Poland between Hitler and Stalin created a lot of bad blood.

Now, with the creation of independent Belarus and Ukraine as a buffer between us in 1991, much of this tension has faded. In the mind of many nationalistic Russians, the place of Poland as the “evil Slav” is taken over by Ukraine.

Poland, along with Austria and Hungary, is also considered the place in the Central Europe with the most powerful Russian agents of influence. In addition to that, many among the Polish elite share Putin’s views on the EU as a liberal bureaucratic project, and the Anglo-Saxon globalism as a threat to the national identity. If the current tensions between the illiberal Polish leadership and the EU continue to gain strength, we may expect an emerging accord between Russia and Poland, in line with the existing one between Hungary and Russia.

Fun fact about the Soviet coat of arms

For the first two decades, the Soviet state had a coat of arms with a glaring error on it.

The Soviet Union was founded in 1922. For the first few years, the Soviet Union used the coat of arms depicted below. A challenge for for you: try to spot an obvious error in the design. The answer will be given at the end of the post.

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Answer: the handle of the sickle is attached upside down. This is how Russian sickles looked like at the time:

But when the coat of arms above was adopted, everyone got busy replicating the “new” sickle:

At long last, someone found the courage to tell the Kremlin that the sickle in the country of workers and peasants should look like the real thing. Yet, it took 14 long years for the rulers to agree. The coat of arms with the regular sickle was made official first in 1937.

Did Communism have a chance to win over Western powers?

There were two forks in history when Communist powers had at least a theoretical possibility to prevail over their Capitalist foes. America, however, would stay safe anyway, thanks to their remoteness from Eurasian hotspots.

Communism as the ultimate phase of Real Socialism requires that Capitalism be eliminated worldwide. Then, the production inefficiencies of Socialism, the lagging innovation and the resulting military disadvantage would no longer be a factor.

In the 20th century, we had two forks leading that at least in theory could give the USSR a chance to establish its control over the entire European continent:

  • In 1937–1941, the USSR had the largest army and the most able military-industrial complex in the world. During that time, sympathies for the Communist cause also were at the zenith across the continent. Of course, it remain unclear how the Soviet Union would handle America on the other end of the Atlantic, and Great Britain with their wealth of fallback strategies in the overseas territories.
  • In the mid-1970s, the USSR reached the nuclear parity with the US, with the potential for Mutual Assured Destruction as a consequence. In the case of a full-blown nuclear war between NATO and the Warsaw Block, the Communist China, staying out of the fray, would have a chance of enforcing their version of Communist rule on the surviving humanity.