>Communism As a Religion

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“Religion is the opium of the people,” Marx said in his Contribution to Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right published in 1843. (I looked this up on Wikipedia and I’m not ashamed of confessing it.) The Communist leaders of the Soviet Union took this statement to heart and invested the Soviet brand of Communism with very obvious religious overtones.* This made it a lot easier to convert a very backwards, ultra-religious country to a new Communist religion.
Just consider the following facts:
Just look at this picture that in the
USSR we saw on a regular basis. Does
it remind you of anything?
1. Communist ideologues were always presented as a kind of a Holy Trinity where, instead of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, you had Marx, Engels and Lenin. 
2. Holy remains of saints were always central to religious practices of the most backwards denominations. When Lenin died in 1924, his body was embalmed and preserved in a mausoleum so that people could visit his remains and pay their homage. It was considered a duty and a privilege of every Soviet citizen to walk by Lenin’s remains at least once. I’ve done it and I don’t know any other person who grew up in the Soviet Union who hasn’t. The Russian government still spends a significant amount on preserving Lenin’s remains because there are too many people who oppose interring the poor guy’s body (or whatever is left of it). Lenin’s remains still have pride of place on the Red Square. When Stalin died, his remains were also embalmed and added to Lenin’s in the Mausoleum.**
3. In a Russian Orthodox home, there was always a corner called “beautiful” (which carries the same meaning as the word “red”) where religious images were located. After the October Revolution, religious images were removed from these right-hand corners and substituted with images of the Communist Holy Trinity. Just like with the holy images, people would light candles in front of the triple image of Marx, Engels and Lenin (or Marx, Lenin and Stalin.)  The number of “inspirational stories” we have read about young Pioneers (you do know what it means in the context of the Soviet Union, right?) removing an old grandma’s religious images from the right-hand corner and placing Lenin’s portraits there was overwhelming. And, come to think of it, very Derridian****, too.
4. In a profoundly Pagan culture that was forcibly converted to Christianity (as all Slavic cultures that still preserve their Pagan customs and allegiances were), it was important to offer people Communist equivalents of their Pagan deities and traditions. This was done very successfully in the Soviet Union. As we all know, Pagan  sexuality is very happy and exuberant***, while Christianity was always very repressive sexually. The official Communist ideology would snag people with their “a sexual act should come as easily as having a glass of water” propaganda of the 20ies, only to collapse into an extremely Puritanical culture of the 60ies and the 70ies.
The main reason that the Communist ideology was so successful with the backwards and ultra-religious people of the Russian Empire is that it managed to inscribe itself so neatly into the all-important belief system  promoted by the Russian Orthodox Church. It isn’t for nothing that Stalin was so eager to turn the Church leaders into happy collaborators of the regime. For decades, the Russian Orthodox priests collaborated with the KGB and informed the authorities of whatever it was that people revealed in the confessional. Today, the Russian president and prime-minister flaunt their fake religiousness which is made easy for them because of their KGB credentials that they share with the top officials of the Russian Orthodox Church.
*If I somebody reminds me, I will one day blog about why this project failed so spectacularly in Cuba.
** I also want to write a separate post on how Stalin’s death was perceived as an enormous tragedy even by the most intellectual and refined Soviet people. It is especially curious to examine the case of Jews who weeped over the death of a guy who was in the process of exiling them all into Siberia. There are so many topics to blog about that one feels overwhelmed.
*** I’m also dying to blog about Slavic Paganism in the hopes that a Western Pagan (Pagan Topologist, maybe?) will point out similarities and differences.
**** If I need to write a separate post about it, just say so.

>Who Caused the Collapse of the Soviet Union? Part III

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To continue our conversation about the collapse of the Soviet Union that we started here and here, I want to answer the question that people often have when they are told that there was no transfer of power when the system changed. If money and power remained in the same hands after the fall of the Soviet Union, people ask, how is it possible that nobody noticed? Weren’t the citizens supposed to start asking questions as to why such a profound transformation as going from socialism to capitalism did not bring about a major transfer of power?
Of course, people would have asked these questions. They were prevented from doing it, though, by a very inventive distractionary tactic. The tactic in question consisted of presenting the people whose pictures you can see below as the new post-Soviet billionaires:
This is Roman Abramovich whose fortune is estimated at $13,4 billion. 
He is the 53rd richest person in the world. 
This guy is Boris Berezovsky. His fortune has dwindled in the recent years (an expensive divorce, endless court cases, exile, etc.) and now stands at a puny $1 billion.
While he still served the purposes of the regime, it looked like his political and economic power was unrivaled.
This is another post-Soviet billionaire, Vladimir Gusinsky. He is now also in deep trouble with the regime. In the nineties, however, he owned pretty much everything in Russia. Except, of course, what the other guys whose pictures I posted owned.
So these are the people who were given to us in the nineties as the all-powerful billionaires who now had all the money and the power of the former Soviet Union. And they all have one thing in common. It might not be obvious to an American eye that is used to seeing a huge ethnic and racial variety on a daily basis. It is immediately obvious to any Soviet person, though, that these guys are Jews. (These are not the only billionaires of the 90ies, of course. There are a few more, and most of them are also Jewish.)
In the early nineties, the people who were effectuating the so-called transition from the Soviet Union to a free market democracy (a transition that never really took place, of course) used this nifty little trick to distract the fiercely anti-semitic Soviet people from what was really going on. They appointed some very obviously Jewish guys to act as figureheads for the seemingly new regime. When the Jewish billionaires had served their purpose, they were thrown over by the regime. Now many of them are either in hiding or in exile. In my opinion, they had been chosen as figureheads from the pool of minor KGB informers. Of course, I have no data to substantiate this opinion but no other possibility makes sense logically.
In the next post in this series I will tell you who I think was really in power in the Soviet Union and why the decision was made to disband the USSR temporarily.

>Who Caused the Collapse of the Soviet Union? Part II

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The first post in this series got a huge number of visitors, which makes me think that the topic is of interest to people and has to be developed further. So I’ll keep writing on this subject until I run out of things to say (which will not be very soon.)
Now, the most important thing you need to do if you want to understand what happened to the Soviet Union and what’s going on in its former republics right now is forget about the United States. I know that there are many people who like to believe that every single thing in the world is caused by the United States. Pseudo-liberals unwittingly demonstrate just how much they despise those of us from other countries by their insistence that if life in our countries does not correspond to their standards, that must have been caused by the interference of the US. This attitude is condescending, reductive and wrong. Today’s reality of the former Soviet countries was created and is maintained by people in those countries. And it’s not a reality that makes them unhappy, so fake compassion for us, poor unintelligent victims of the bad, all-powerful US, is completely misplaced. If that’s the direction of your thoughts about us, you need to reexamine what psychological issues make you want to exaggerate the importance of your country at the expense of others.
Even Naomi Klein, who in her imaginative and often funny book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism demonstrates a grievous misunderstanding of the post-Soviet Russia (she refers to Yeltsin as Russian Pinochet, for Pete’s sake), recognizes in a grudging manner that the Russians beat the IMF at its own game. Those of you who have read the book know that it’s informed by Klein’s extremely Americentric agenda. Still, even she doesn’t manage to create a convincing account of American protagonism in the collapse of the Soviet Union and the further fate of the former Soviet republics.
Now that we have established a productive framework within which these events should be discussed, we will be able to continue exploring this topic.

>Who Caused the Collapse of the Soviet Union? Part I

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Nothing annoys me more than hearing people discuss completely in earnest whether the collapse of the Soviet Union was brought about by Ronald Reagan or by somebody else. Such discussions make just as much sense as trying to figure out whether world peace was achieved by this or some other politician. “Well, there is no world peace,” you’d say. Right you are. And there was no collapse of the Soviet Union. Not in any meaningful sense, that is. As to the end of the Cold War, if you seriously think it’s over, you need to stop spending so much time listening to the American media and turn to some external sources of information every once in a while. The winner of the Cold War is yet to be decided but I somehow doubt that you can win any war by pretending it isn’t taking place.
In case you want to know what really happened with the Soviet Union, North American media sources will not tell you anything intelligent. Every time I read an article or watch a news segment on the former USSR countries in the US or Canada, I am terrified at the amount of sheer factual errors and ridiculous mistakes that I encounter. I read an article in Montreal’s Gazette a few years ago that stated in no uncertain terms that radio was very popular in Russia nowadays because people had no money to buy TV-sets. This made me realize that woeful ignorance and ideological dishonesty of print media journalists makes writing about the former USSR the perfect ground for them to demonstrate their complete lack of investigative integrity. They just write whatever old bunch of lies will make the readers feel more relaxed and happy at any given moment.

In order to answer the question as to what happened to the Soviet Union, I want to give you small snippets from the biographies of the richest and most powerful people in Russia today. Tell me if you find anything these people have in common. I marked the relevant parts with bold type in case you don’t feel like reading a lot today.
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Vladimir Putin, the President and now the Prime-Minister (and the real ruler) of Russia:
Putin joined the KGB in 1975 upon graduation from university, and underwent a year’s training at the 401st KGB school in Okhta, Leningrad. He then went on to work briefly in the Second Department (counter-intelligence) before he was transferred to the First Department, where among his duties was the monitoring of foreigners and consular officials in Leningrad, while using the cover of being a police officer with the CID. He served at the Fifth Directorate of the KGB, which combated political dissent in the Soviet Union. He then received an offer to transfer to foreign intelligence First Chief Directorate of the KGB and was sent for additional year long training to the Dzerzhinsky KGB Higher School in Moscow and then in the early eighties—the Red Banner Yuri Andropov KGB Institute in Moscow (now the Academy of Foreign Intelligence).
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Mikhail Potanin,  one of Russia’s billionaires, former First Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation.

Potanin was born into a high-ranking communist family. In 1978, Potanin attended the faculty of the International economic relations at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), an elite school that groomed students for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. . . In 1993, Potanin became President of United Export Import Bank. From August 14, 1996 until March 17, 1997 he worked as . Since August 1998, Potanin hold the positions of President and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Interros Company. Potanin’s Interros owns 25% and controls Russian Nickel giant Norilsk Nickel
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Mikhail Khodorkovsky,  is a Russian oligarch and businessman. In 2004, Khodorkovsky was the wealthiest man in Russia, and was 16th on Forbes list of billionaires. Now, this vile criminal is finally in jail.
He succeeded in building a career as a communist functionary. He became deputy head of Komsomol (the Communist Youth League) at his university. The Komsomol career was one of the ways to get into the ranks of communist apparatchiks and to achieve the highest possible living standards. After perestroika started, Khodorkovsky used his connections within the communist structures to gain a foothold in the developing free market. He used the help of some powerful people to start his business activities under the cover of Komsomol. Friendship with another Komsomol leader, Alexey Golubovich, helped him greatly in his further success, since Golubovich’s parents held top positions in the State Bank of the USSR.
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Alexander Lebedev:  In May 2008, he was listed by Forbes magazine as one of the richest Russians and as the 358th richest person in the world with an estimated fortune of $3.1 billion. He owns a third of airline Aeroflot, and is part owner of the Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and owner of four UK newspapers with son Evgeny Lebedev: the London Evening StandardThe Independent, the Independent on Sunday and the new i newspaper. 

In 1977, Alexander Lebedev entered the Department of Economics at Moscow State Institute of International Relations. After he graduated in 1982, Lebedev started work at the Institute of Economics of the World Socialist System doing research for his Kandidat (equal to Ph.D.) dissertation The problems of debt and the challenges of globalization. However he soon transferred to the First Chief Directorate (Foreign Intelligence) of KGB. He worked there and at its successor Foreign Intelligence Service until 1992. In London he had the diplomatic cover of an economics attaché
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Chernomyrdinwas the founder and the first chairman of the Gazprom energy company, the longest serving Prime Minister of Russia (1992–1998) and Acting President of Russia for a day in 1996. He was a key figure in Russian politics in the 1990s, and a great contributor to the Russian transition from a planned to a market economy
Chernomyrdin began developing his career as a politician when he worked for the Communist Party in Orsk between 1967 and 1973. In 1973, he was appointed the director of the natural gas refining plant in Orenburg, a position which he held until 1978. Between 1978 and 1982, Chernomyrdin worked in the heavy industry arm of the Central Committee of the Communist party.
In 1982, he was appointed deputy Minister of the natural gas industries of the Soviet Union. Concurrently, beginning from 1983, he directed Glavtyumengazprom, an industry association for natural gas resource development in Tyumen Oblast. During 1985-1989 he was the Minister of gas industries.

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I could continue this list practically ad infinitum but I’m sure that everybody knows what I’m trying to say here.  All of the major politicians and the billionaires in Russia and other former Soviet republics are former high-ranking members of the Communist Party, apparatchiks, and KGB employees. There was never any transfer of power, either politically or  economically. Absolutely the same people (or, rather, families) who ruled us before 1985 are still in power today. And if you want to know how and why that happened, wait for the second part of this post. 

>Medical Care in the Soviet Union

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When I tell people I was born in the Soviet Union, more often than not I hear them ask, “The medical care there was amazing, wasn’t it?” Well, let me tell you about just how fantastic it was. God, those fond memories are just rushing in.
Medical care in the USSR was completely free. Of course, if you didn’t offer any gifts or bribes to the doctors and nurses, you could count on nobody paying any attention to you and making you wait forever even for the urgent medical procedures. To give an example, my mother couldn’t convince the nurses she was in labor. They kept telling her to wait in a very rude manner. It wasn’t my mother’s first time giving birth, so she was pretty sure of what was going on. Still, nobody wanted to pay attention to her. It was night-time, and she was being extremely inconsiderate going into labor at that inconvenient time.
When I was five, I had a tonsillectomy. It is a fairly minor procedure that many people undergo with no complications. So it would have been in my case had it not been for the fact that the doctors confused me with some other little girl who was allergic to anaesthetics. So they didn’t anesthetize me. (Something tells me that the other girl was a lot worse off because they must have pumped her full of drugs she was allergic to and that I was supposed to get instead.)
Before the operation, my parents told me that I would be given a medication to make the procedure painless. So when the doctor started tearing my tonsils out with no anaesthetic, I started crying. Not surprising, given that I was five years old. So he hit me in the face with his fist to shut me up. When I walked out of the operation room (which you were supposed to leave the moment the operation ended), my face was covered in blood. Then I was put in a ward with many other little kids. It was December, and the room was freezing cold. It was so cold that I got pneumonia. At least, my mother was there with me, which was very unusual in Soviet hospitals. Normally, little sick kids were denied any contact with their parents during hospitalization. So I was really lucky. The nice, kind doctors wouldn’t let me leave because apparently they weren’t done with me just yet. When matters started looking really grim, my grandfather came and removed me from the hospital. So at least I’m alive.
When my sister was about the same age, she got sick. Kids get sick, it happens. A doctor came to see her. She looked at my sister indifferently and said to my mother, stifling a yawn: “The kid’s gonna die, lady. She’s in a bad way.” Of course, my mother started crying and saying that it wasn’t possible. It didn’t even seem like my sister was feeling all that bad. “I said she’ll die,” said the doctor irritably. “Can’t you hear me?” But at least that nice doctor came to visit us absolutely for free. (My sister grew up to be a beautiful, healthy adult, thanks be to Allah.)
These are just a few of my stories about the beauty of the Soviet healthcare. One day I’ll tell you about the wonders of the Soviet gynecological services which will turn your stomach. So don’t be too surprised if I don’t take all that kindly to any pontifications on how amazing the medical care in the USSR was.

>Who Caused the Collapse of the Soviet Union?

>I have read several articles dedicated to the collapse of the Soviet Union recently. These articles attributed the breakdown of the Soviet Empire and the fall of the Communist system to a variety of the weirdest agents. There are analysts who are so uninformed as to believe that the Soviet system came to an end as a result of the actions of President Reagan or even the CIA (yes, the same CIA that failed in every single major operation it ever attempted to carry out.)

From somebody who saw the disintegration of the USSR from within the country, this is what happened: Forget Reagan, Bush Sr., the CIA, the FBI, and James Bond. They had nothing to do with the situation in question. There was a certain group of people in power in the Soviet Union. That group of people decided that the economic system of the Soviet Union couldn’t be milked for much more profit because it had worn itself out completely. So they introduced a new economic system (which, of course, had to be accompanied by a new political structure and a new ideology) that allowed them to remain in power and exploit that system a lot more profitably.

So, in reality, there was no real collapse, breakdown, or anything of the kind. The same people who were in power before, are still in power now in the countries of the former Soviet Union. It is funny how Americans, who have this weird delusion that they are the root cause of pretty much everything in the universe, keep trying to find reasons for what happened to a huge country on a different continent within the US.

>Was the Collapse of the Soviet Union a Disappointment?

>There is an article in today’s El Pais about the disappointment that many people from the former Eastern bloc feel about the collapse of the Soviet Union and the ensuing process of transition to a new political and economic system. Many people in the former socialist countries (especially those who belong to the older generations) lament the breakdown of the Soviet Union and think it was a negative thing that had a horrible impact on their lives. Evidently, the Soviet Union was a terrible, monstrous system that committed a lot of crimes against its own population and against the people of many other countries. It is hardly possible (or I would even say absolutely impossible) to find one redeeming feature of this system. So why do so many people feel nostalgic about the Soviet Union?

In order to find an answer to this question, we have to remember that a very special system was formed in the Soviet Union which was based on amputating certain characteristics in every one who wanted to survive under it. A huge number of people spent their lives not doing any actual work. The remuneration that they got for presenting themselves at their workplace and doing absolutely nothing there was a mere pittance. It allowed you to cover your most basic necessities but in return you could avoid doing any real work for the duration of your lifetime. When the Soviet Union collapsed, this became impossible. Everybody had to learn to work, make a living, and fend for themselves. The generations that were used to the system where their basic necessities were covered and they sismply didn’t have to work at all were understandably distraught over the new reality. For the first time in generations, people had to learn what it means to write a CV and a cover letter, what job interviews feel like, and what it means to work (and I mean to work, not to sit around gossiping with your colleagues) a full working day.

One of the sad legacies of the Soviet Union is that working for a regular salary is somehow shameful. Of course, it is acceptable to work for huge amounts of money, but everybody who makes an average salary is still considered to be somewhat a loser. The Soviet system did everything in its power to kill off the spirit of entreprise, personal achievement and personal responsibility. And it succeeded in this effort. This is why there are still so many people in the former Eastern bloc countries who feel nostalgic about the communist times.