The New Russian Dialectic

Voices. A ? an editor: "Since there's still no real political culture here, there's no point making any distinction between right and left. The only distinctions you can make are between corrupt and honest, smart and stupid. It's quite possible that General Alexander Lebed is the only guy around who's both honest and smart -- what he did in Chechnya was incredible."


B ? a rock-poet: "The only problem is that 'smart' and 'corrupt' and 'honest' and 'stupid' have come to be thought of as equivalents: homonyms. Smart equals corrupt, and vice versa. Honest is stupid. So you opt to join money like you used to join the Communist Party, giving up any pretense to personal morality. It's simply the smart thing to do. Honest people are peasants, clodhoppers. So it's all right to deceive them and steal from them. In fact, it's a sure sign of superiority."


C ? student: "Money is the new ideology, the source of both morality and power. It's just like in the Party. The higher you rose, the more you demonstrated your understanding of its ideology -- in fact, the more you represented it, you became it. Or like in the tsar's court. Tsar Paul once said: 'In Russia only he is great with whom I speak, and only when I am speaking with him.' The tsars were the source of all power and morality via a sort of mystical electricity, just as Stalin was later. Well, now that's all over. Now it's money that carries the mystical electricity. Only it can purvey rightness."


D ? a historian and philosopher: "When ideologies are imported into Russia from the West, the malignant history of the country tugs at them and pulls them out of shape. It distorts them; turns them into their opposites. The Enlightenment becomes the darkness of murder. Communism becomes totalitarianism. Capitalism becomes a form of socialism -- but only for the rich. The sole way to break out of this cycle is for the whole country to stop, look back and take collective responsibility for the past. There must be some form of expiation, some acknowledgment of the cancer. The West could have helped us in this; it could have forced us to confront and remove the burden of the past. But the West, sadly, has run out of moral ideas. All it has now is what we have: money as ideology -- and the masses as docile consumers of it, spooned enough to keep them happy."


A: "The Russian press is bought. Politicians are bought. The tentacles of money-power, like Communist power, are everywhere in the society. All that needs to happen now for the cycle to be complete is for those who have the most money to take over the government -- which is actually more or less the situation we have today. Those who have the most ideology -- money, in this case -- always rise to the top in Russia. And if they don't have it when they arrive there, they soon acquire it by force. Their word -- their will -- is, after all, what the new ideology is."


C: "Here is a nice scheme. Reality in Russia has always been understood as historical inevitability, i.e. as the will of history (or God). But in Russia the will of history is the will of those who claim to represent it, i.e. the will of the avantgarde class, i.e. its will to power. Reality and morality now intersect in the will of those who have power to remain there. Everything is right that allows them to stay in power. And how do you get Russians to tolerate this state of affairs? By making them believe in it, believe in the reality which is willed by this power -- the whole fabric of deception which, appropriately enough, is given the name of ideology."


B: "There is taint everywhere in Russia. I don't know how to describe it any other way. Taint. Sin. On a railway journey. Shopping for food. In the most ordinary human transactions. In the West, when you go into a studio and sit down with musicians, everyone knows what he or she is doing there -- whatever the standard, whatever the equipment. And the result has some joy in it; it's ... shiny. Here -- even with the best musicians, the best equipment -- it's grubby somehow, it's gloomy."


And where does hope lie for the future? C: "In what Pushkin called 'history in the domestic way.' Otherwise, in drunks, holy fools and madmen -- as usual." A: "In honesty. In law. Who knows? Even perhaps in Lebed." B: "In kids. I spent some time with a bunch of young kids -- musicians, groupies in Moscow recently. And they were astonishing. They were asking all these questions about collective responsibility, guilt, the past: everything." D: "In the young, certainly. We are just beginning, I think, to see the rise of a new kind of young and questioning intelligentsia, not interested in money. The soul of Russia may be coming back."