Recent Russian History 1945-2006
Prosveshchenie Publishers, 2007
Review by Dave Essell
I was asked by LR if maybe I would select and translate some choicely odious pieces from A.N.Filippov’s Recent Russian History 1945-2006, the recently published and already notorious book of guidance for Soviet – oops!, I mean Russian neonazi – teachers. It turns out I was little overenthusiastic in agreeing to this due to a selection problem: the whole book is choicely odious. Open it at random anywhere (I’ve tried this with friends) and you will on any page find something or other to make you fulminate: tortuous logic and false comparisons in support of a lie, the usual whining attitudes, vile pseudo-intellectual phrasing, cheap tricks such as the insertion as fact of a dubious, to say the least, statement in a list of other wise normal things in the hope that it will pass unnoticed and be accepted, pages of pointless platitudes to deaden the reader’s mind – in short the usual panoply of Lenino-Goebbelsian tricks. The book is in fact a paradigm of Russia today. And Russia today is a combination of Soviet norms in a mixed state-capitalist/free-market environment – Nazi Germany mutatis mutandis…
The tone of the book is striking in its return to Soviet ways of expressing things: don’t read the text, read between the lines… There was always something strange and special about the way that Soviet journalists wrote. This was the result, I think, of that fact that all humans know what is a lie and what isn’t, what’s fair and what isn’t, and we can’t help showing it. Thus it was that when Soviet journalists wrote their crap, there was always an awkward undertone, a sort of complicitous subtext of “you know that this is bollocks, I know it too, and we both know that I’m intellectual quisling and lickspittle which is why I’m not even bothering to try to write well.”
Another extraordinary thing about this mockery of a history book is that, unlike most Soviet history books where the tradition is to have attributory footnotes on every page as way of having them but hindering the research process, it actually has an organised list of sources at the back of the book. However, it is the very first history book I have ever seen in my life that has NO foreign sources whatsoever! All the books in the list are Soviet and Russian. This obviously ensures that a proper balance is found and maintained.
This balance is further assisted by the frequent inclusion of opinion poll data at the end of chapters. The author seems to prefer a polling organisation called FOM (Public Opinion Fund) reminiscent of GnomePolls, the fictitious polling organisation favoured by Lord Gnome, himself the fictitious proprietor and editor-in-chief of the UK’s satirical magazine Private Eye, which operated under the slogan “You tell us the answers and we’ll find the questions!”
Question #1: Many in the West consider Mikhail Gorbachev one of the most outstanding politicians of the 20th century. Do you personally agree or disagree with this view?
The reply categories are (from top to bottom): Agree - Disagree - Don’t know, with three different time periods for each, 1995, 2001 and 2004 (again from top to bottom).
Question #2: In your view, did Mikhail Gorbachev on the whole bring our people more good or harm?
The reply categories are (from top to bottom): More Good - Good and Harm Equally - More Harm - Don’t Know. Two time periods are given for each 2001 and 2004.
Question #3: Generally speaking, in your view would you say Josef Stalin played a positive or negative role in the history of Russia?
So how about some examples? (This book could be fisked from page 1 to the end but this would be a teensy-weensy bit tiring on fisker and reader alike). In my translations, I will deliberately resist the temptation of making sense out of nonsense and also retain the verbosity that is essential for authors such as these in preventing the reader’s brain from getting into gear.
• Tortuous logic and ridiculously false comparisons, here about pre-WWII Stalin: “Politico-historical research shows that in similar situations where a serious threat exists even ‘soft’ and ‘pliable’ political systems as rule evolve in favour of a rapprochement with harsh forms of political organisation, in particular in the direction of limiting personal rights in favour of the state, as happened, for example, in the USA after the events of 11 September 2001.” – from Chapter 4: National Policies. The Situation in the USSR in the Later Years of Stalin’s Life (which due to the author’s butterfly-brain manner of exposition also takes some leaps back in time).
This is great. As usual the author takes no responsibility for what is stated (that undercurrent of shamefulness I mentioned?): what you are reading is the result of politico-historical research not by the author and thus absolute truth. Of course, no citations are given as a Russian who has got his mind right knows that politico-historical research just HAS to be right! Finally, it takes some chutzpah to reach for a parallel between the Soviet Union of 1937 and the relatively harmless (but very wrong nonetheless) inanities of US Homeland Security post 9/11.
• A few paragraphs below this, I found the following gem: “Of course, the Soviet period was given particular drama and tension by the character traits of Stalin. Contemporary witnesses and later research by political psychologists show that the determining factor of Stalin’s personality was a sort of black&white perception of reality (accompanied by a categorisation of the people around him into ‘friend’/’foe’), a feeling that his milieu was hostile, cruelty and a need to dominate. However, the influence of the psychological peculiarities of his character was probably secondary compared to the role of objective circumstances.”
Political psychologists, indeed! I suppose such people must be graduates of the Serbsky Institute’s renowned Department of Political Psychology. And in the midst of all this bollocks, note the number of disclaimers: ‘sort of’, ‘probably’, and those wonderful ‘objective circumstances’ that need no further description. I will charitably assume that the syntactical errors are the result of the extreme difficulty in writing many words while ideally conveying no information.
• Do we fancy a Goebbelsian lie, and not even about something very important? How about: “In a very short timescale, the Volga Automobile Factory (VAZ) mastered the production of its Model VAZ-2101, the famous ‘kopeika’, a Soviet analogue of the Fiat 124.” (TN: kopeika = 1 kopeck = model number 1. This is the first Lada).
In fact, the Lada factory and technology was licensed lock, stock and barrel from Fiat. ‘Mastering the production’ in Russia does not mean R&D then planning and building a factory, merely ensuring that Fiat fulfils its contract and then keeping workers sober long enough to get some vehicles off the far end of the production line. (As a personal note, my very first car was a red VAZ-2101, export model obtained in the 70’s from the Beryozka dollar shop in Moscow and highly prized since the export models were actually fitted with Weber carburetors since the Toliatti plant after a decade of operation was still in the process of ‘mastering’ the manufacture of decent carburetors). Of Ladas, Wikipedia says that they have “the distinction of being one of the most produced car models in automotive history […] known for its outdated technology, poor fuel economy and tank-like roadholding”.
• Sneak in some, to put it mildly, dubious, facts (these from Chapter 1: Choosing a Course): “It was no coincidence that the case of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC) was revived in 1948. Having been set up during the war, the JAC became an important social centre for Jews living in the USSR. Its popularity inside the Soviet Union, its fame abroad, and the fact that it had a certain autonomy from state organs gave rise to dubious feelings in Stalin. In the conditions of the Cold War, the JAC’s links with international Jewish organisations appeared suspicious and dangerous. The proposal by the JAC’s leadership that a Jewish autonomous region be established in the Crimea and the JAC’s role in the USSR’s support for Israel, which was later recognised to be an error, completed the case. In January 1948, agents of the MGB killed People’s Artist of the USSR S.M. Mikhoels in a faked car accident.”
What a wonderful use of the passive when affirming something that must surely at least be open to discussion. It’s worth comparing this wriggly, worm-ridden paragraph with Wikipedia’s short but fact-filled entry on the JAC:
The Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC, Russian language: Еврейский антифашистский комитет, ЕАК) was formed in Kuibyshev in April 1942 with the official support of the Soviet authorities. It was designed to influence international public opinion and organize political and material support for the Soviet fight against Nazi Germany, particularly from the West. […] The JAC broadcast pro-Soviet propaganda to foreign audiences, assuring them of the absence of anti-Semitism in the USSR. In 1943, Mikhoels and Itzik Feffer, the first official representatives of the Soviet Jewry allowed to visit the West, embarked on a seven-month tour to the USA, Mexico, Canada and Britain to drum up their support. In the US, they were welcomed by a National Reception Committee chaired by Albert Einstein and by B.Z. Goldberg, Sholom Aleichem's son-in-law, and American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. The largest pro-Soviet rally ever in the United States was held on July 8 at the Polo Grounds, where 50,000 people listened to Mikhoels, Fefer, Fiorello LaGuardia, Sholem Asch, and Chairman of World Jewish Congress Rabbi Stephen Wise. Among others, they met Chaim Weizmann, Charlie Chaplin, Marc Chagall, Paul Robeson and Lion Feuchtwanger.
In addition to the funds for the Russian war effort — 16 million dollars raised in the US, 15 million in England, ? in Canada, 1 million in Mexico, 750 thousand in the British Mandate of Palestine — other help was also contributed: machinery, medical equipment, medicine, ambulances, clothes. On July 16, 1943, Pravda reported: "Mikhoels and Feffer received a message from Chicago that a special conference of the Joint initiated a campaign to finance a thousand ambulances for the needs of the Red Army." The visit also evoked the American public to the necessity of entering the European war. […] Towards the end and immediately after the war, the JAC became involved in documenting the Holocaust. This ran contrary to the official Soviet policy to present it as atrocities against all Soviet citizens, not acknowledging the specific genocide of the Jews.
Some of the committee members were vocal supporters of the State of Israel, established in 1948, something that Stalin supported very briefly. Their international contacts especially to the USA at the outset of the Cold War would eventually make them vulnerable to charges that they had become politically incorrect.
The contacts with American Jewish organizations resulted in the plan to publish the Black Book simultaneously in the US and the Soviet Union, documenting the Holocaust and participation of Jews in the resistance movement. The Black Book was indeed published in New York in 1946, but no Russian edition appeared. The typeface galleys were broken up in 1948, when the political situation of Soviet Jewry deteriorated. In January 1948, Mikhoels was killed in a suspicious car accident in Minsk.
Filippov’s nasty little paragraph about the JAC is a good example of the need to read between the lines. What it really – but unintentionally – tells the discriminating Soviet reader is that there is more to the JAC than is being said here but you’ll have to go elsewhere to find it (else why mention the organisation for so little information of note?).
• Whining attitudes and filching in unproven assumptions (a fine example from Chapter 1 again): “The internal contradictions of the Soviet Union did not prevent its people uniting during the war years. A decisive role in the victory was played by the Soviet people unity of morale, reinforced by the whole economic and political might of the vast centralised state. The USSR, which sacrificed the most on the altar of the anti-Hitlerite coalition’s joint Victory, which made such a significant and dearly-paid contribution to the Victory, had reason to count on aid from the Western allies to restore its collapsed economy.”
Pseudo-intellectual claptrap in purple prose (from the Introduction): “For some time now our schoolchildren have been being presented with various points of view, different variants of answers to the questions: what is the world, humanity, the Universe? By what laws do they develop? What is the place of people in this world? How do human societies develop? […] The book you have now in your hands covers the history of Russia from the end of the Great Patriotic War to the present day, from the magnificent and historic triumph of the Soviet Union to its tragic collapse. […] The variety of answers to what are key questions for young people who are just beginning to independently comprehend the world about them is indubitably an indicator of the achievement of the modern Russian school. The variety of points of view, openness to new interpretations of what previously were considered long-known truths, discussivity as the basis of the didactic process – all these are becoming the main methodology in the teaching of humanitarian disciplines.
Hypocrisy was a defining characteristic of the Soviet Union with its ‘most democratic constitution in the world’, its ‘work correction camps’, and so on and to say that this book is a demonstration of “openness to new interpretations” is another prime example of the same. This book lays down the new party line and is a closed to reason and reasonableness as the Soviet Union ever was.
[NOTE: Following this post is a direct translation from the text itself, also by Dave Essel -- or click here to view the page if came direct to this one from the Internet]