If it Wasn’t for Yeltsin…

Today, (Friday 13th February) according to HISTORYNET (http://www.historynet.com/today-in-history) was the day that Konstantin Chernenko, the second-to-last Soviet leader was selected as the successor of Yuri Andropov, as the Communist Party of the Soviet Union’s General Secretary, in the year of 1984. To mark the thirty-first anniversary of this date, I thought that rather than focussing on a particular news story I’d write about the past, specifically the last days of the USSR, making it an appropriate time to address an interesting question: what would have become of the USSR if it wasn’t for its 1991 dissolution?

Even after the events of Christmas Day 1991, communism, in the minds of many, hasn’t seemed to have departed. The current president is a former KGB agent, who referred to the Soviet Union’s collapse as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe” of the century. Almost every city has a street named after Lenin, and whilst comparably insignificant to the former Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation remains strong and active.

In my opinion, the period of thaw under Khrushchev, whilst marking the height of the Cold War, paved the way for the collapse of communism. I’d see this as a result of (I’ll apologise in advance for any Stalinists) Stalin’s reign, which brought famine, terror and repression of a scale incomparable to that under Lenin, the Provisional Government, or tsarism. And given that this is Russia we’re talking about, a country with a long and bitter history of autocratic rule, it definitely says something. Whilst the dismantling of Stalinism did not directly result in what is recognised as the ‘Fall of Communism’ (which, given what Stalinism actually implemented, was likely for the better) I believe it left behind a regime which was naturally inclined to thaw after Stalin’s departure, eventually leading to its collapse.

Additionally, I believe communism is not only dead for the present; it’s remained dead for a significant period of time. The fall of the Soviet Union shortly led to a return of capitalism in its constituent states, proving that communism only survived in the area through the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and thus did so as an idea rather than an actuality. Even Yugoslavia, a country independent (both nationally and politically) of the USSR, fragmented shortly after its dissolution, leaving behind only a select handful of communist countries scattered around the globe.

The coloured states constituted what was recognised as the communist world at its height. Today, only a fraction of red states remain

The coloured states constituted what was recognised as the communist world at its height. Today, only a fraction of red states remain

But what if such hadn’t occurred? What if Gorbachev proved to be unsuccessful in the Soviet Union’s dissolution, say, if the 1991 coup d’état managed to achieve socialism’s preservation? Would there still be an Eastern Bloc, an Iron Curtain, and firm alliances binding the first and second world into militarist organisations? During the extra twenty-four years, would the communist world not have declined but expanded?
To give an answer rather less-dramatic than the question suggests it should be, I think not.

The way I see it, as I’ve already said, the Soviet Union had not seen socialism for a long while. The population may have caught a glimpse, in 1917, of where it may lie, but the efforts to reach it soon translated into bureaucracy, later totalitarianism. This resulted only in an illusion of socialism. In other words, if it weren’t for Boris Yeltsin’s government, I believe that any further efforts made by the Communist Party would be simply buying time. By the 1990’s, the once-so-tightly-enforced infrastructure had grown so fragile that protests and demonstration occurred in Latvia, the fears of the capitalist world so weak that Gorbachev was able to announce the policy of ‘Glasnost’, and still retain power. If a new leader had decided to repress these Latvian demonstrators, or to preserve the hostility with Western Europe, I can’t imagine the population tolerating it for long.

I’ve read that the Communist Party of the Russian Federation now promises Russia ‘Chinese socialism’, highlighting how desperate their situation really is.
In my entry on Cuba, I made it very clear what I believed Chinese socialism, alongside Vietnamese socialism to be: capitalism. If the leading communist movement in a country which was once the world’s first socialist state is resorting to watering down its philosophy in order to obtain votes, I don’t think I need persuading that communism has failed in Russia, and, in this particular format, is not likely to make a return anytime soon.

I conclude on this inglorious note by quoting a cropped version of the poem ‘Goodbye Our Red Flag’, from Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s book ‘Don’t Die Before You’re Dead’.

Goodbye our red flag.
You slipped down from the Kremlin roof
Not so proudly
Not so adroitly
As you climbed many years ago
On the destroyed Reichstag
Smoking like Hitler’s last fag.

Goodbye our red flag.
You were our brother and our enemy.
You were a soldier’s comrade in trenches,
You were the hope of all captive Europe,
But like a red curtain you concealed behind you the Gulag
Stuffed with frozen dead bodies.
Why did you do it, our red flag?

Goodbye our red flag.
Lie down.
Take a rest.
We will remember all the victims
Deceived by your sweet red murmur
That lured millions like sheep to the slaughterhouse.
But we will remember you
Because you too were no less deceived.
Goodbye our red flag.
Were you just a romantic rag?

Goodbye our red flag.
Pry open the fist
That imprisoned you
Trying to wave something red over Civil War
When scoundrels try to grab
Your standard again,
Or just desperate people,
Lining up for hope.
Goodbye our red flag.
You float into our dreams.
Now you are just a narrow stripe
In our Russian Tricolour.
In the innocent hands of whiteness,
In the innocent hands of blue
Maybe even your red colour
Can be washed free of blood.

Goodbye our red flag.
In our naïve childhood,
We played Red Army – White Army.
We were born in a country
That no longer exists.
But in that Atlantis we were alive.
We were loved.
You, our red flag, lay in a puddle
In a flea market.
Some hustlers sell you
For hard currency.
Dollars, Francs, Yen.

I didn’t take the Tsar’s Winter Palace.
I didn’t storm Hitler’s Reichstag.
I’m not what you call a “Commie.”
But I caress the red flag
And cry.

– Thanks to Yevtushenko

1 thought on “If it Wasn’t for Yeltsin…

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