Staunton, March 6 – The alliance of reformers in the CPSU nomenklatura and Soviet liberals who were prepared for various reasons to cooperate with them led to the defeat of the dissidents who rejected the system as a whole and condemned Russia again to suffer once again a return “to the ideology of Russian imperialism and authoritarianism,” Mikhail Berg says.
Now, the regime no longer needs the liberals as the murder of Boris Nemtsov shows, the Moscow commentator says, and that in turn means that “the transition from the fictional democracy [of the last decades] to a real dictatorship [of the kind now on offer] … began not today but a quarter of a century ago.”
To understand what is happening now, Berg suggests, one must look back to the first years of Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika.
The political struggles of that time “took place under the sign of a struggle of two in part real and in part fictional forces: reformers and conservatives, democrats and communists, liberals and retrogrades.”
The reality of these conflicts was “above all, rhetorical,” about the words people used and thus the limits of the permissible, but the fictional nature of them was that behind what seemed to be serious and irreconcilable differences were “concealed various positions of one and the same Soviet nomenklatura which as a result turned out to be the main beneficiary of reforms.”
“The victory of the reformers from the nomenklatura was secured not only by their genuinely dominating positions among the authorities of the transitional period but also by their main ally – the Soviet liberals,” Berg says. The latter provided the language of the times that “the party-Komsomol and KGB nomenklatura couldn’t come up with on its own.”
For their assistance in this regard, he continues, the Soviet liberals were “generously compensated.”
They were given much of the mass media, new and old, “the most prestigious positions in the academic (humanitarian) sector and also preferences in business connected or not connected with the ideological sphere.”
Some might see this as inevitable, but there were other possible outcomes. Had they been followed, the situation in Russia today would be very different.
At the end of Soviet times, Berg says, the Soviet liberals were opposed by those “whom one may call dissidents,” and the opposition of these two groups reflected “a struggle between those who even before perestroika agreed to cooperate with the Soviet system … and those who opposed the Soviet system because they did not consider any cooperation with it possible.”
That division existed throughout the USSR and the Soviet bloc. In those places “where the dissidents won politically important positions, reforms to various degrees succeeded.” But where the dissidents were forced out by the nomenklatura-liberal alliance, the reforms announced proved half-hearted and ultimately failed.
While it is obvious that the liberals enjoyed enormous advantages in this situation, including their alliance with the nomenklatura reformers, their victory in the Russian Federation was not a certainty as the victory of the dissidents and non-conformists in other countries proves, the commentator argues.
That is because this struggle was not only about real political power based on position but also about ideology, and there, the dissidents and the non-conformists had real advantages. In many parts of Eastern Europe, the ideas of dissident minorities triumphed. But “in Russia this did not happen.”
“The victory of Yeltsin, a liberal but highly placed representative of the party nomenklatura and also his reliance not on non-conformists but on Soviet liberals … was already a sign of the choice of [that] future with which we have to deal now,” Berg says.
Many people missed this because it seemed to them that “the victory of Yeltsin was a victory of reformers over communist retrogrades. In fact, this was a victory of the conformists over the non-conformists, and everything else was a slow repetition of what is still the only possible scenario for liberal reforms” here: the borrowing of Western technology “under liberal phraseology and then the inevitable return to the ideas and practice of Russian imperial values.”
“In this sense, the rise of Putin was made inevitable most of all as a result of the fictional political reforms (according to the version of Soviet liberals), the creation of an imitation of democratic institutions, privatization, and the principle of the division of power.” In the end, that meant the triumph of the reformist part of the Soviet nomenklatura but not its displacement.
According to Berg, the murder of Nemtsov is a sign that the situation has reached the point where those in power no longer need the liberals, where “the process of redistribution of means and power has been completed” and where the former allies of the nomenklatura are targeted for removal.
Thus, he concludes, “the transition from fictional democracy to a real dictatorship was in large measure fated to happen, but this turn of events began not today but a quarter of a century ago.”