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.

Why did the Russian Empire fall?

House of Romanov fell victim to its own incompetence. In the early 1917, Czar Nicholas II found himself without allies.

The Russian Empire fell because the ruling Czarist aristocracy during the WWI lost the support of the urban middle class. The chaos created by the war resulted in a surge of peasant revolution. A disruption of state administration made possible the power grab by a small group of radical Socialists, the Bolsheviks, who were backed by the military in Petrograd (now St. Petersburg).

Which led to a tripartite Civil War between: (1) the old elite, (2) the Communists, supported by ethnic minorities and a large part of the military, (3) peasant gangs and armies. The support of peasants throughout 1919 secured the victory of Bolsheviks who established a kind of truce with them in 1922 in the form of a peasant-friendly New Economic Policy (NEP).

Stalin’s collectivization of 1928–1933, when private farmers were made de-facto state serfs, marked the ultimate defeat of the Russian peasant revolution and the final triumph of Communist revolutionaries.

The book “The Russian Revolution”, by Richard Pipes is probably the most succinct and accessible about the matter. Albeit it’s viewed by many in Russia and among leftist liberals in the West as biased against the revolutionaries, its factual base and the competence of the author are irrefutable.

Revolutionary troops take the Winter Palace by Ivan Vladimirov.
Picture: “Revolutionary troops take the Winter Palace”, by Ivan Vladimirov.

Six visuals that illustrate Russia’s history

Outstanding pictures illustrate the key points of Russia’s civilization


Trade in the land of East Slavs by Sergey Ivanov
Picture: “Trade in the land of East Slavs”, by Sergey Ivanov. 1909. The era’s main commodity, slaves, is given the center stage.


  • During the XVIII century, Russia became transformed into the largest continuous land empire through a massive infusion of Western technologies and German administrative talent. In the painting below, Russia’s coming imperial destiny is represented by the kid in European clothes to the right, the Prussia-style troops in the background and jesters challenging the natives with their Western-style entertainment. Old Slav and Turkic aristocracy to the right, along with Ivan V in the center, are not amused, while Peter the Great in his practical Russian kaftan is boisterous and excited. Peter’s German entourage are skeptically contemplating the scene.
Arrival of the Tzars Peter I and Ivan V for entertainment in Semenovo by Ilya Repin
Picture: Arrival of the Tzars Peter I and Ivan V for entertainment in Semenovo”, by Ilya Repin.

Power as a national idea

  • The supreme national idea of Russia is power, embodied in the great Russian state (derzháva). Everything in our history is pinned on it. As a Russian subject, your worth is determined by how much you contribute to the wealth, might, and glory of our state, because it is the sole organizing force on the frozen, wind-blown, endless expanses of Eurasian plains. In the picture below, the clothing is Mediterranean, but the story is essentially Russian, archetypal for our civilization, where countless bright talents have been weighed and measured by servants of our Empire—and found wanting, or worse.
Picture: What is the truth? Christ and Pilate”, by Nikolai Ge.

Revolutions and wars

  • The Black Square”, by Kazimir Malevich. The year is 1913, but the painter already senses how the Great War is going soon to crack open in Russia a fathomless wellspring of human evil, that would reverberate through the rest of the century by unimaginable atrocities across half the world.
The Black Square by Kazimir Malevich.
The Black Square”, by Kazimir Malevich.


  • Heroes of the First Five-Year Plan”, by Alexander Deineka. Rugged workers of mixed Soviet ethnicities walk through something reminding of the Pearly Gates. Their steps are weightless, faces overwhelmed, their path floodlit by a heavenly brilliance and blessed by the pagan goddess of victory. Millions of souls were spent in the XX century for the sake of the greatest project of social re-engineering, the Communist revolution.
Heroes of the First Five-Year Plan by Alexander Deineka
Painting: Heroes of the First Five-Year Plan”, by Alexander Deineka.


  • The victory over Nazi Germany was the pinnacle of Russian history, an epic saga of self-sacrifice and human suffering. Like much else in our history, the fruits of the victory were appropriated by people who neither suffered or sacrificed anything.
Soviet infantryman on the march WWII
Picture: Soviet infantryman on the march, WWII.”

Why the Communists don’t like the past?

The defining feature of Communism is a forward-projection. Progressivism is its main driver.

All known ideologies and systems of belief can be grouped in two:

  • Tradition-bound
  • Forward-projected


The tradition-bound people go about their life with their heads turned to the past. It gives them the guidance of a known path, the safety of tested-and-tried solutions, the moral code of long-existing beliefs and rituals. Future for them is the source of disturbance, uncertainty. The future is where enemies, misfortunes and death are laying in wait, to do away each of us, one after one—or, if we are not vigilant, everyone in one fell swoop.

Forward projection

The forward-projected people are the creatures of escape. The world, as they know it, is too boring, too ugly, too absurd. It’s in our power to change it to something more exciting, more beautiful, more sensible. Even the weakest and most insignificant among us still have the ability to tweak a little bit of it to the better, if we gather all imagination, magnanimity and the thirst for perfection everyone possesses.

Escape from the present

Communists are the most radical and action-oriented faction among the forwards-projected people. They do not necessarily believe that the past is only bad. Still, the present for Communists is little else but a swelling cesspool of our accumulated blunders, illusions and crimes, with some occasional gems of nascent meaning floating in the waste matter. The cause of making a better future out of the deeply flawed present requires an outright rejection of the past.

Class struggle

When the time for action comes, and the banner of revolution is raised high and visible for all, a lot of people strongly object to revolutionaries taking away their stuff and destroying their lives. The sheer logic of power struggle that comes with it, greatly amplifies the forward-projected worldview, and makes Communists even less inclined to preserve anything from the past.

“Take hostages, according to yesterday’s telegram. Make it so that for hundreds of miles around people take notice, tremble, know, shout: bloodsuckers and kulaks are being strangled, smothered. Report the execution. Yours, Lenin. P.S. Find more result-oriented people.”

(Vladimir Lenin)

Moscow as the “Third Rome”

Third Rome as an imperial idea never got the traction is could expect given the Russian obsession with territorial expansion. Only the Communists truly rose up to the task

Muscovy as Third Rome was an early example of a great brand name. Sadly, we had no product to back it up.

When the brand idea first surfaced in the 15th century, the idea was to mark the passing of torch of the Greek Orthodoxy from Constantinople to Moscow. It was born out of the frustration of the ethnic Slav clergy. They felt fed up by incessant patronizing on the part of Bulgarian and Greek emigré theologians and monks who used to overwhelm the locals by their superior knowledge of the Orthodox cannon.

When the “Rome 3.0” claim was endorsed by Great Dukes of Muscovy, it gave the Russian Romans an equal footing with other Europeans both in spiritual and political matters.

However, the Third Rome idea never made it into a full-blown political concept, or a tool for Russian foreign policy. Even under the competent guidance of German spin masters in the 18th century didn’t inspire the House of Romanov to make more of it. Neither Peter the Great, or Catherine the Great, or Russian opponents of the Polish/Swedish push in the early XVII century tried the “Roman” ideological banner for their imperial cause.

  • No one managed to reconcile the concept with the existence of the Holy Roman Empire, who used the same symbols and claimed the same legacy.
  • The idea of liberation of Slav ethnicities in the Ottoman Balkans was not explained in the terms of Roman imperial narrative. It was the Slav Brotherhood narrative.
  • No ideas of the global Christian reunion under the tutelage of Russian monarchy whatsoever.
  • The only exterritorial “Roman” ambition of the Christian orthodoxy in Europe was Constantinople, and the part of Balkans adjoining it. No Orthodoxy supplanting Papism in Poland, or Protestantism in the Baltics or Finland. No conversion of pagans, Buddhists and Muslims south and east of Muscovy.

It took the Communist takeover in 1917 to give the idea of Third Rome the needed political flesh and instrumentality. This time it happened on a totally Western ideological platform. It was backed by the Soviet military-industrial complex. This time is possessed an internationalist appeal, far exceeding the original Christian footprint. Stalinism truly transformed our country into the high fortress of world revolution, the shining beacon of radical Marxism.

A Soviet poster from 1919. The text says: “Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic. May 1: The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.”

How has communism influenced modern Russian culture permanently?

Bolsheviks obliterated Russian history and inserted themselves into it instead.

Russia that you see today is a product of the Communist rule, deformed by the preceding Russian history. It’s not the other way around (Russia deformed by Communists), because not only the entire imperial elite was wiped out, but also the demographic base and material culture of the old nation was intentionally destroyed.

There are three elements that connect the modern Russia to the pre-revolutionary Russia:

  • Language
  • Buildings, art and other artifacts
  • State

The connection between us, modern Russians, and the old Russian empire is the connection between a Roman imperial villa—with the sets of well-used antique furniture, crockery and a paved courtyard—and a large family of its barbarian occupants, who toil the land with new tools, pray to a new god, and spend nights entertaining each other with stories in vulgar Latin culled from Roman manuscripts.

The huge gap between us and the old Russia explains many oddities you can see at every step in our country. We celebrate the victory over the Nazi Germany under the banners of people who fought the Soviet Union on Hitler’s side. On the celebration day, our marching troops go in front of the mausoleum of Lenin, the man who would have had our president executed on first sight for presiding over the evil rule of Big Capital. Our Communists are celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Communist Revolution in the posh hotel Renaissance Monarch.

Bolsheviks obliterated Russian history and inserted themselves into it instead. We can not just discard their legacy. The whole edifice of the modern Russian nation will go down right away.

Putin understands and acts on that. This is why his support is so strong. Everyone from left to right instinctively realizes: the mighty Russian state is the only thing that keeps it all glued together. The universal disdain for evangelists of civil society and the human rights activism stems not only from laziness (it’s much safer to sit put and keep mum than go out in the streets and claim our rights). It’s also everyone’s observation: the civil society is barely surviving in tiny pockets in Moscow and a few other places—and Putin is doing a thorough job stomping them out. What happens if the state fails? We’ve seen it in the 1990s. Nothing to put in place. Void. Chaos.

Therefore, the simple answer to the question would be: “in pretty much everything and as far as we can see ahead”. We all are not only survivors of Communism. We are its children.

The statue “Worker and Farmer Woman, multiplied” is a spoof of the iconic Soviet statue.

Khrushchev’s time in power: pros and cons

Khrushchev was good for a common man in the USSR. But the softening of Stalin’s version of Socialism ultimately led to weakening of the Communist project.

The main legacy of Khrushchev as a Soviet leader is rather straightforward. After the death of Stalin, Khrushchev continued supporting our Communist friends abroad. But despite the continued Cold War, Khrushchev took the Bolshevik concept of international Communist expansion (i.e. revolutionary wars) off the Soviet agenda.

The pros and cons of Khrushchev —  the man and his era — are all consequences of this fact. 

Post-Stalinist Thaw

Even before Khruschev’s famous secret speech, Stalin’s quasi-permanent state of siege was relieved. Some resources were redistributed from the military-industrial complex into the civil sector. Farmers had more freedom of movement. Some tensions with the West were defused.

As the subsequent development showed, from a Marxist point of view, it was plain wrong. In the longer term, Communism seems to have a chance only in a state of heightened economic and social mobilization. Communism also requires a recurrent rotation of elites through large-scale purges.

After the quick development in the 1950s, a gradual stagnation and decline in the USSR followed. It resulted in the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Good for commoners

While from the Communist point of view Khrushchev was a slow-working disaster, for a common man like me, Khrushchev’s rule was a good thing. He ended Stalin’s cycles of never-ending terror. Khrushchev was the first of Soviet leaders who gave precedence to making life better for the Soviet people, sometimes ahead of advancing the cause of Socialism.

Khrushchev seemed to firmly believe in peaceful competition between Socialism and Capitalism. Khrushchev introduced the buoyant optimism of the youthful 1960s. It was probably the happiest decade, full of hope and creative energies. This was not only the era of Gagarin’s 1961 space triumph, but for millions of families it was when they got their first ever home they didn’t need to share with anyone else.

Graph below: Residential building in USSR and Russia, 1918–2007, in sq.m. Blue: state-funded, brown privately funded.


Residential building in USSR and Russia, 1918–2007

G Graph below: Meat consumption in the USSR, kg/person/year


Meat consumption in the USSR

Graph: Soviet gold reserves (blue) and gold exports (red), in metric tons


Gold Reserves / Gold Exports