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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The West Calls the Tune

Someone has posted a handwritten sign on one of the old KGB buildings. "Hard currency bought and sold" it reads, and then there's a name and number. The sign is faded from the sun and rain and has come half unglued; it seems there is no one to tear it off completely.


To me this sign is better evidence of the changes in our country than the pulling down of yet another statue of Lenin or the putting up of another McDonald's. Under Khrushchev, the original Party democrat, people were not just arrested for currency dealings but shot, thanks to laws specially post-dated for the purpose.


It is clear that communism cannot be restored in this post-Soviet era. and it is not the dissidents, the freedom-loving poets and artists, or the speculators who are the guarantee of this.


You can't enter the same river twice: If the Greeks had not coined this phrase, the post-Socialists would have. The average man may miss cheap vodka, sausage, and the empire, but he has a very peculiar attitude toward the toppled communist idol. Those who favor a strong power blame the totalitarian state not so much for its mass repressions as for its downfall.


The cultivated person, though appalled by the sight of the accumulation of capital, realizes that it is not all the product of Gorbachev and Yakovlev's new thinking, but of the old anomalous existence.


As for the powers that be (yesterday's Partocrats), they are now 100 times better off than before and have more to lose than anyone in a counter-reformation.


Socialism's economic and political base is gone. If one disregards the psychotic maniacs, whose influence is negligible anyway, the "red menace" is a meaningless term except to those of Russia's democrats who can think of no better way of attracting attention at home and abroad.


But the world's notion of what is happening in Russia is manipulated not only by the post-Soviet ruling class. More important is the West's desire to make the complex and unique processes associated with the collapse of the Soviet Union fit the usual models and assessments. Western leaders and ideologists like to present the demise of the U. S. S. R. as proof of the universal truth of the bourgeois value system, as a triumph for the free world. The ordinary Western citizen is even less inclined to give any real thought to someone else's problems.


It is no secret that many of my compatriots are interested in profitable contacts with Western politicians and businessmen, in invitations to foreign seminars or even to a reception at Spaso House. They know that their foreign hosts will find them pleasant and interesting as long as they patter along on such accepted topics as adherence to market principles, devotion to democracy, and fighting communists.


Despite Russia's new xenophobia, my compatriots claim in conversation with foreigners to love the Western way of life, to see all sorts of resemblances between Russians and Americans. Or even better, they say nothing and listen delightedly as their uninhibited interlocutor informs them how many educated people there are in Russia or how rich Russia is in resources. Interestingly, the foreigner's high opinion of Russian's intellectual abilities is never accompanied by a desire to know our opinion about how to combat homelessness in New York or how to make peace in Ulster.


Yet slews of people whose knowledge of Russia goes no deeper than the headlines tell us what to do about our unemployment, food distribution and ethnic conflicts.


There is no reason to accuse my fellow social scientists of conservatism. Most of them have already mastered the principles of the market and "sold" themselves by saying and writing whatever the customer wants to hear. One colleague just called from Washington: "Gaidar and his team are here", he said, "and they're talking such nonsense about Russia! " I want to defend the ex-prime minister: it is not lack of knowledge but a wealth of experience in dealing with Americans (whom he understands better than his compatriots) that compels him to please his listeners. and he does please them - despite the results of his efforts at home.


Various things are said in Russia today about Yeltsin and his opponents. But no matter what kind of prescriptions Robert Strauss gave for improving our economy, the former U. S. Ambassador was listened to with rapt attention.


Our legal system and democratic symbolism also generate a lot of unsolicited advice: Pass laws on new freedoms and responsibilities for taxpayers, take Lenin out of the Mausoleum, start living in a civilized way. Though Russia's government has changed the national flag, emblem and anthem, and prepared five drafts of a new constitution, it is unable to guarantee its citizens the most minimal rights.


Yes, Russia has changed irrevocably. But the change is not necessarily for the better. Post-socialism is not necessarily democracy. What it is, in fact, only the state of our society will tell, not politicians or consultants humoring their sponsors. The destruction of the economy and the state system, national humiliation at having no time to transform the productive forces and the mentality of the people: This is what is in store for Russia.


Domestic and foreign democrats alike have paved the way more for the coming of a director-colonel like Suret Huseinov than for a management system like the one at General Motors.


America can afford to pay for pleasant lectures by Russian experts - these lectures might even be looked on as a form of psychotherapy. But it seems the West is not hearing the voices of other scholars, who warn of the danger of illusions concealing a tragedy for Russia and the whole world.


Leonid Goldin is a Doctor of Philosophy and a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences