obituary. Ironically, I lectured yesterday in a class about the crisis
of socialism in the 1970s leading to the victory of Mikhail Gorbachev
and the eventual overthrow of the Soviet state and society.
In some of my classes I occasionally read reports from mass media,
particularly the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, as examples
of "capitalist realism," that is, the information that we are given and
the interpretations that we are expected to make "freely" in our "open
society." Today, Because a printer failed to work, an example perhaps of
contemporary capitalist technology, I mentioned key points from the obituary
and used it, to the delight of many of the students, as an example of
"Capitalist realism" works the way anti-Communists liked to say
realism" used to work, that is, there is the truth and there is the
position(the "politically correct" position of the Communist party under
"socialist realism" and the biased assumptions and distorted information
capitalist class under "capitalist realism," according to me, the Marxist
originator of that term, for what it is worth).
With capitalist realism, you
have got to read between the lines, and, as I have done with the New
for nearly half a century, I will try to read between the lines of Marilyn
Berger's obituary,where "the facts" of the Yeltsin
story are presented but never seriously contextualized or analyzed and
the assumptions that have guided generations of anti-Communist and
anti-Soviet propaganda are held onto like a security blanket.
So, Berger tells us, there were corrupt "oligarchs" who privatized and
economy. Yeltsin was still a "democrat." So he ruled at times like a
Czar, and violated the most elemental civil rights and liberties. He
still brought freedom and "democracy" to Russia, or rather helped to destroy
"the hell on
earth" that the Soviet Union was,(my reasonable reading of Berger's view of
Soviet history, given what she writes) and which of course is
everything that was bad in the Soviet epoch and everything that is bad today
Let me begin by poking some fun at the expense of the
obituary and then make some serious points about Yeltsin, since humor is
a good tool to use against the pompous and bigoted
The obit portrays Yeltsin as an "erratic reformer," who sometimes
"ruled as a Czar" was "crude," heroically defeated a "right-wing
coup" against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991, and became convinced,
after a visit to a Houston supermarket in 1989, that the Soviet
Union's "bloated" inefficient horrible economy and system of centralized
planning was the root of all evil.
Using quotes from Leon Aron's simple to be generous
biography, Berger states that Yeltsin was "overwhelmed at what he saw
at a Houston supermarket, the Kaleidescopic variety of meats and
vegetables available to ordinary Americans." For Yeltsin this was the
turning point, like Paul on the road to Damascus, a conversion that Nikita
Khruschev failed to make in U.S. kitchen in Moscow in 1959, when he was
informed of the superiorities of American consumer capitalism by Richard
aka St. Richard The Expletive Deleted.
Thirty years after the kitchen debate in Moscow, and fifteen years after
his resignation to prevent impeachment, Richard Nixon finally achieved
historical vindication in 1989
Then, as you may remember, Nixon wagged his finger at Khruschev
whose blustering personality might remind some of Yeltsin, and extolled
the glories of "free enterprise"in a model U.S. Kitchen, which was
part of an American exhibit in Moscow, informing Khruschev that his
father was a
humble shopkeeper. Khruscheve replied that "all shopkeepers are thieves."
Nixon used the event as further
evidence that he would "stand up" to the Russians, as he unsuccessfully
stand up to John F. Kennedy in the Kennedy-Nixon debates(Kennedy and
Khrushev exchanged notes about Nixon's pointing his finger at them to
look good for the cameras at their first Summit meeting).
The obituary extolls Yeltsin for "standing up" to the Soviets and the
Communists(which in the rest of the world would be called betraying his
It hails him for leading the opposition to the 1991
"right-wing coup," a term that he used even though the forces supporting him
would be considered right-wing in the rest of the world.
The coup of course one of the strangest "coups" in history much more
Python than Augusto Pinochet. A group of
Soviet officials, believing apparently that they had Gorbachev's
support, declared martial law. They also sent word, students of the
events have contended,
to Yeltsin that they
would not threaten him(he had earlier issued directives outlawing the
Communist party in the Russian federation and was trying to assume
powers himself as president of the federation). When Gorbachev did not
support his cabinet members' action, they cut his telephone
was not in Moscow at the time) but did not
use force against him or Yeltsin, or the anti-Communist and anti-Soviet
that were proliferating in the final years of the Gorbachev leadership
Real coups are characterized by armed force, the arrest at least if not
execution of political rivals, and the direct use of both the military
and politice power(I am not advocating coups but that is what coups are).
In August of 1991, there were only a few
half-hearted attempts by the officials who declared a national emergency
to call upon troops to support them. There was no coup planning what so
ever because the officials didn't really think that they were launching
a coup. Four people lost their lives in the subsequent fiasco as the
for the victory of "democracy."
Many writers today make the point that most Russians stayed at home
during these events in utter confusion and that the great majority of the
cheered Yeltsin at his street rallies were members of the criminal
syndicates who were in the process of becoming a major part of the "new
Russian" capitalist class.
In the aftermath of the "coup" that wasn't, Gorbachev returned with
Yeltsin as the strong man. Gorbachev, General Secretary of the CPSU,
signed orders abolishing the CPSU. Although virtually all polls showed
that an overwhelming majority of people in the Soviet republics wanted
the Soviet Union to continue in some form, the leaders of the Soviet
Republics at the end of the year abolished the Soviet Union and replaced
it with an oxymoron called the "Commonwealth of Independant States."
Ms. Berger goes on to say in a grotesque manner that Yetlsin "showed no
reluctance to use the power of the presidency to face down his opponents
as he did in a showdown in 1993 when he ordered tanks to fire upon the
parliament, dominated by openly seditious Communists..."
"Openly seditious Communists" who were fighting what by then was clearly
a corrupt oligarcy. Although Berger goes into these bloody events in greater
detail, "openly seditious Communists" not a variety of Duma members, is what
readers are supposed to come away with. From my reading of events at the
hundreds of people(not from my reading the dozens
she claims) lost their lives in the storming of the State Duma and
those captured, including the late Mike Davidoff, reporter for the PWW,
received brutal treatment as they were compelled to walk through
gauntlets. Davidoff who was in the Duma told me of his experiences and the
psychological and physical brutality used by the Yeltsin military in the
and the attack.
The Clinton administration supported Yeltsin to the hilt and claimed
that these acts were "necessary" to protect "Russian democracy"
Berger then goes on to quote a variety of "post-Soviet" anti-Communist
sources which merely show the depth of the hostility and hatred that the
Soviet Union faced from its capitalist enemies from the 1917 revolution
to the 1991 counter-revolution. That the CIA had advised George Bush I
to continue to support Gorbachev as against Yeltsin whom they regarded
as an unstable alcoholic is not highlighted, although former Secretary
James Baker's generous characterization of him as a "flake" is mentioned.
The misery and suffering of the Soviet people from the 1990s on as the death
rate rose spectactularly and both economic and pyschological depression
became(and for large numbers still is) a way of life is mentioned but,
"capitalist realist tradition," not connected to any analysis.
Berger then recounts Yeltsin's life, portraying him as a "populist,"
the fact that someone of his origin would have much less chance to
any capitalist country, even if such a person had the intelligence and
that Yeltsin rarely showed. Also, one might add that his free
career were the result of
the Soviet system.
That Yeltsin was brought into the leadership of the Moscow party by
Mikhail Gorbachev as part of Gorbachev's disastrous "Perstroika"
program is mentioned not given the importance that it deserves.
Perestroika, which had many high minded intentions, permitted in reality
black marketeers and corrupt bureaucrats to set up "cooperatives" that
siphoned off resources from the Soviet public economy and created
something like an
economic depression in the Soviet Union.
The economic crisis, which was the result of many factors, including
the longterm negative effects of cold war spending on the capital poor
Soviet Union and the huge global price inflation of the 1970S and 1980s,
encouraged a wide variety of anti-socialist and anti-Soviet political
forces, from ethnic nationalists in the Republics and Russian
chauvinists to "reformers" advocating private ownership of property,
private investments, and stock markets, to flourish.
Along with the economic crisis, a crisis developed in the Soviet
Communist party and Yeltsin turned on his benefactor, Gorbachev, to
become the political shill for these anti-Communist, anti-Soviet forces,
particularly the alliance
of black marketeers and bureaucrats who were expanding their influence
over the crisis ridden Soviet economy and government, establishing
parallel capitalist enterprises, and forming what
were in effect large criminal gangs as they tried to both form a capitalist
exploiting class and lead a counter-revolution.
In 1988, Gorbachev, fighting against both the Yeltsin group and
traditional Marxist-Leninists in the CPSU whom he called
"conservatives," in effect used his power to permit Yeltsin to become
President of the Russian Federation. The choices were Yeltsin or a
traditional Soviet Communist, since the "perestroika" Communist whom
Yeltsin was backing had no chance to win. In effect, Gorbachev, by
failing to act, chose Yeltsin as he in a sense would in 1991.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Yeltsin replaced Gorbachev as
capitalism's man in the Kremlin. The gangsters and bureaucrats whose
was born through
"Perestroika" carried out what was probably the greatest theft in human
history, the privatizing and looting of a socialist Soviet economy which
from the crippling effects of war and revolution to both survive and
also become a source of both inspiration and practical support for
socialist and anti-imperialist forces through the world. What right did
anyone under any law have to take over the factories and other
enterprises created entirely by socialist labor?
Like Ronald Reagan and George Bush I in the 1980s in Afghanistan, Boris
created a Frankenstein monster in the 1990s in Chechnya, a part of the
federation, first by supporting anti-Communist nationalist elements to
overwhelm the local Communist led Soviet and then, when these elements
Russian authority over a strategically important region, launching an
invasion that levelled the regional capital Grozny, and sowed the seeds
for terrorist attacks that continue to this day.
As his government swam in a sea of corruption and chaos, Yeltsin himself
stumbled and fumbled and combined his blustery statements with private
feelings of self-pity, becoming a truly ridiculous character whom it was
difficult to believe had really played such an important and negative
role in history.
Jack F. Matlock, a former U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union praised in the
both Gorbachev and Yeltsin, claiming that "they destroyed the most
monstrous political system in the history of the world, a regime with
extensive resources to keep itself in power." In that statement(which
of course includes everything from Caligula to Ghengis Khan to Hitler) he
captures perfectly the hatred and contempt that the capitalist world had
for the Soviet Union and their support for anyone and anything under any
circumstances that would work to destroy it. In that sense, the enemies of
peace and co-existence, the dogmatists and haters, were much more
the "free world" side of what Winston Churchill called the Iron curtain
If you wish to find monuments to Boris Yeltsin, look at the inequality,
poverty, corrupt and feeble government that the former Soviet people
Clifford Odets, the American playwright and then Communist had a
socialist character in his 1930s play Awake and Sing, say that "you should
fight so that the meaning of life is not written on dollar bills."
Today the lives of former Soviet citizens are expressed in money and what
money buys. This is the legacy of Boris Yeltsin and his friendly
enemy, Mikhail Gorbachev, along with the agressive global policies of
reaction and imperialism that the destruction of the Soviet Union unleashed.
Let me conclude by turning around an old anti-Soviet joke at Boris Yeltsin's
expense. In the
Soviet Union, the joke went, what is the stage between socialism and
Communism? The answer is
For Boris Yeltsin, one might say that alcoholism led directly to freedom,
democracy and "the rule of law"(which if you believe, that, you can
use a drink)