Earlier this week KGB Lt. Col. Victor Kalashnikov, who has been making news in Germany, discussed with me the origins of the Soviet regime, and the current Russian regime. Kalashnikov's interest in history led him to uncover the Soviet Union's initial phase of development during the Russian Civil War. This initial phase helps us to understand the later path of Soviet development, and the current Russian obsession with war preparations. Here we find the idea that a thing may be better known by exploring its early development, as in the psychological theories of Sigmund Freud. One might say that Kalashnikov has insights into the early childhood of the Soviet regime. Does such a regime actually have the equivalent of a childhood? Whatever metaphor you prefer, a totalitarian state does not sprout from the ground like a head of lettuce, or a cabbage. Totalitarianism seems to develop out of a relentless type of hatred and mass killing. It is born from a conflict that partakes of figurative cannibalism, of an appetite for human flesh. Here we find the story of thousands or millions of human victims, and the killers who built a system upon the bones of the dead.
Kalashnikov began our conversation by commenting on the recent Khordorkovsky trial, saying it was "a good example of the corruption ongoing at the highest levels" of the Russian state. Mikhail Khordorkovsky had been the wealthiest man in Russia, and chief executive of Russia's largest oil company, Yukos. He was arrested on 25 October 2003 in Novosibirsk on charges of fraud. In his final statement at his second trial, Khordorkovsky asked what entrepreneurs and creative individuals will think of such a trial where the outcome is set in advance. The conclusion, he said, is chilling in its simplicity. "There is no right of private property [in Russia]. No person who conflicts with the 'system' has any rights whatsoever. Even when enshrined in law, rights are not protected by the courts." Because, he said, the courts are a fraud.
"It is the worst case," said Kalashnikov about Khordorkovsky. The top guys who were actually running Yukos were KGB generals, and Kalashnikov named them. Most contracts were arranged through these KGB men, he said. "No serious action [within Yukos] on the side of Khordorkovsky or others was thinkable without their direct authorization. I had to realize that, here in Germany and Austria, not everyone would be ready or happy to be reminded of this. There is a certain mutual understanding between the West and Moscow ... so they are quite reluctant to look closely into this issue."
Not only was the trial a fraud, but even Khordorkovsky proves to be a fraud. Russia is, in fact, a layer cake where each layer is sugared with fraud. Why had this system made Khordorkovsky into an "oligarch." Why was that same system destroying him? It is for the same reason that, under Lenin and Stalin, the Soviet state created the entrepreneurs of the New Economic Policy (NEP men) in the 1920s, and subsequently destroyed them. It goes to the nature of the regime. But where was this nature acquired? How did it come about? What is it, exactly, and how may we know it? Part of the answer lies in the desire to win over the West, or the Western media. "When I joined the analytical department in January 85, the standard analytical memo to the Politburo was not to exceed two pages in print. Then, with Gorbachev in power, that was downsized to one and a half, then to one page. Then, starting around 1990, when the crisis was already in sight, there was an instruction from the KGB chief in Moscow, that any such memo would attach a sheet of paper in which I would explain in ten lines the heart of the issue, the most important substance of the analysis. Along that way, from two pages to ten lines, a lot of things had been washed out. All the "isms" were washed out -- like communism, proletarianism, etc. All necessary things for key decision makers excluded such terms. What remained in the end? I can summarize it in two critical things, based on 1990 guidelines: (1) What shall we do to stay somewhat longer in power, physically? (2) What do they in Washington, Vienna, London, etc. write about us? What do they think of Gorbachev, etc.?"
Thus, explained Kalashnikov, the regime was interested in the timing of its own demise, and in the way its leading figures were seen in the West. This was the all-important component. And for the individual political actor: "What do they think of me?" The regime's script (as it were), and the political actor's reception upon the stage, depended upon the Western audience. Were they buying the act? Were they applauding, or ready to throw fruit at those occupying the stage?
"When the Soviet Union was already in the past," began Kalashnikov, "I managed to establish a stable relationship with the very nice ladies who kept the library of the Central Committee [of the Communist Party Soviet Union] in Moscow. At that time the Internet was not widely spread, so the library was full of Western magazines and newspapers and so on. So I was happy to help those nice ladies to compile information packages to meet requests from their new masters in the Kremlin. What I first remembered was the new democrats that had knowledge of English. But many others, probably the majority, formulated their own questions. Listen, Jeff, they were the exact two sets of questions: (1) What does the West think about the stability of our own position in the Kremlin? (2) What do they think in Washington, Vienna, London, etc., about me. So the key priorities of the key decision-makers were, excepting the English speakers, the same as before. This seems to be a basic law of power in Russia. So Occam's razor brings us to our discussion of communism. It was a cover for a certain power strategy, and that is final. In this regard, I think, from a similar perspective, just washing away all the unnecessary isms of ideology, all those over-abundant categories of thought, we get closer to the nature of the regime established in Russia during 1917-18. As you would probably agree, Western Sovietologists gave a lot of attention to communist ideas and certain Bolshevik resolutions, to the materials presented by Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin. In those resolutions one may find references to German philosophers of the 19th century, but when, as a journalist, I was able to go deeper into the Russian reality, I traveled to the Russian provinces in my new capacity, where the huge gap between ideology and what really happened in the revolution exceeded my most dramatic expectations."
It is important to distinguish between ideology and what really happens in the world. When our heads are stuffed with ideology, our expectations are those of a fool. When we look at reality without ideology, we see something that is generally outside our expectations. Ideology and reality belong to different realms. Ideology belongs to the childish side of the imagination, while reality is the realm of the wise. The two things, ideology and reality, never coincide, ever. The reasons were outlined by Gustav Le Bon in his study of crowd behavior, where he stated: "The philosophic absurdity that often marks general beliefs has never been an obstacle to their triumph.... In consequence, the evident weakness of the socialist beliefs of today will not prevent their triumph among the masses.... The socialist ideal of happiness [and] ... the vanity of its promises will at once appear as soon as the first efforts toward their realization are made...."
Kalashnikov described that point where the socialist ideal of happiness first encountered reality, and came undone like a cheap sweater. "Probably you've heard something of the Tambov uprising," he said. "The Tambov area was a huge part of central Russia. It was three times larger in older times. It was a normal rural area, fairly stable, inhabited by farmers, along with handicrafts, and very religious, decent people. Now, the Bolsheviks came and imposed a lot of duties on them. So they revolted. The result in 1919 was not just an uprising but the formation of a republic with its own armies and police. So this huge armed conflict started. Lenin correctly identified the Tambov uprising as the most dangerous one to his regime. This is why the Bolsheviks stopped pushing against Europe and turned East. Their best generals and armies were thrown against the Tambov area. The official reason was to occupy Tambov. During that war, the key episode of the Russian Civil War, was the elimination of large segments of the male population in this particular area. In 1991 the regional KGB department was alarmed. For some reason, the opening of records in Novosibirsk, shed some light on what happened in Tambov. One third of the population was killed. The Bolsheviks were experimenting on people with torture and extermination techniques. When I started to explain to the Germans what happened in Tambov, they were shocked. Those who you would expect to be best prepared for such revelations, researchers into the Holocaust, were surprised at the sophisticated methods of hostage taking (to reveal hidden fighters), and the manner of executions used by the Bolsheviks. A lot of this history is simply incredible. The Bolsheviks introduced a system of concentration camps for men, women, elderly people and children, with various types of terror and indoctrination. That's what they called an occupation. But the most important thing, what emerged from the ruins of the Tambov Republic, was a permanent system of police control. From time to time they practiced, yet again, hostage taking, indoctrination, Komsomol [youth wing of the Communist Party], and now, the next stage: - they distributed this occupational regime to the rest of the country; so that socialism emerged not from Marx and Engels, but from the practice of occupying Tambov. That was the real socialism Stalin accomplished and accommodated. That system was ideal for preparing Russia for the next stage in revolutionary war. If you read Red Army papers from the late 1920s and 30s, you will find a lot of stuff regarding the kind of regime they would establish in the liberated areas of Europe."
According to Kalashnikov, in the period immediately following the Russian Civil War, Soviet military theorists saw Poland as their main enemy. It was assumed that Moscow would attack Poland and carry out Sovietization. A new regime would be established. Kalashnikov said: "The summary is as follows: We 'liberate' a given area to the West, then we bring in 5,000 political commissars, so that in two or three weeks they will establish the basis for a Soviet system." The measures proposed in Red Army plans were derived from the experience of setting up the Tambov occupation regime. The generals and police officials of the Soviet Union gradually improved their methods. Subduing an area became a science. The overall idea was simple, according to Kalashnikov: "We kill all our enemies." In the 1920s the Soviet strategists were naming certain villages in Poland or Belarus. "The Army commanders were planning to establish a Soviet regime [in Poland]. At the top of everything," said Kalashnikov, "was bringing in and putting up a powerful communist party. Of course, we will find some local activists, and together with them we will establish revolutionary committees. But local resources are not sufficient in this regard. So we need commissars and experts to supplement them, along with the Red Army. I must underline this part of the military strategy so you will see that the Bolshevik regime was not just a product of ideology, but a military way of thinking. What do we do with an area taken by the military machine? Sovietization was a military strategy, on which ideological cover was given by communism."
And so, the Soviet Union was a gigantic military formation. It is not about economics, or consumerism, or building socialism. It is about taking and occupying territory. In today's Russia, says Kalashnikov, "the military represents a force, a complex, which was behind bringing Putin and his clique to power because they needed somebody to take political responsibility for the huge bloodshed in the Caucasus. Now we have what we have. Now everybody is talking about Putin, his mistresses, his wrongdoings. Forget it. The Russian military is the key player. It is their doing. They elaborate and carry out the main Russian foreign policy, which is a military policy, worldwide. To bring it to the core of the issue, Russian foreign and military policy should be regarded as a military strategy of the Russian armed forces. Starting with 1917 we see how ideology served as a cover; but in reality it is a military policy which has fascist characteristics. Putin's billionaire friends do not fit into the Marxist idea. Russia is supposedly a democracy, but no Western international rules are relevant for us, so Khordorkovsky is our internal affair."
What people say, what they think, is different than what they really are. It is even possible that they keep this truth from themselves. Conquest is the obsession of the Russian political culture. Lenin has been described as a "militaristic politician." Here is the true character of Russia's political tendency laid bare. "An important point," added Kalashnikov: "We should not forget that in terms of Soviet military strategy, the full country was regarded as a sort of rear area for international global expansion. This is very important, since most Sovietologists consider the Soviet regime to be a totalitarian system as such. This is not correct. A totalitarian system was there for another reason; namely, for mobilization of resources, for war readiness. Even when a child, I was participating in huge military games around Moscow. I was awarded a medal in 1964 by General Golikov, formerly the head of military intelligence under Stalin. So the Soviet Union was the rear area in purely military terms. Every case of dissent was considered by the Fifth Directorate first in terms of foreign influence. Dissidents were therefore considered a foreign element, as sort of intruders, or spies. Secondary was the ideology of these people, or their ideas. The primary thing was the potential existence of a foreign wedge inside our military camp. Just look how the Russian authorities depict opposition personalities of today. 'You are foreign agents,' they say. 'You are agents of Hitler. It is impossible that our happy country would produce scoundrels like this. You are definitely working for our enemy.' Some journalists miss this aspect; but this is the basic policy of Russia for dealing with dissidents. And another idea: that a totalitarian regime is best suited for a certain kind of war, involving the mobilization of all resources."
So the Soviet system, and today's Russian system, is built for total mobilization. The totalitarian requirement is a necessary aspect of war readiness. You have to mobilize everyone, and put all resources into play. It does not matter of your society is relatively poor. Societies that are based on freedom cannot readily mobilize everyone. Such a society is slow to react, or to become a military formation. The bourgeoisie of the Western countries is invested in consumption. In Russia the low living standard is intentional, where all resources are reserved for military use, and is unknown in countries like America or Canada. Although these countries are wealthier than totalitarian countries like Russia or China, they cannot put their resources into immediate military use. In an era of nuclear missile weapons, when Russian can devastate the major cities of the United States, there will be no time to mobilize such resources for the American side, ever. The logic of the situation is not lost upon those who inherited the Soviet military machine. That is why the Russian state is continuing to develop its nuclear and missile potential. That is why the Russians resist every defensive barrier raised against them, whether it is National Missile Defense in the United States or half-hearted ABMs for Europe.
Toward the end of my conversation with Kalashnikov I asked his opinion of China's role in relation to Russia's military focus. "There is joint planning against America," he admitted. "Ultimately, they are sort of a military-political combination. Yes, it is like a bloc, but not like NATO. Russia's arsenal is a joint nuclear umbrella [for China and other states]. Again, as long as other observers get down to the practical issues of military strategy we get closer to the core of the matter. The distribution of military power is the key. Look at this and you will get an idea of who your friends are, and who are your enemies. That is my basic understanding of the issue."