The Russian Party


Moscow Circus, 1959

From Eurozine:

The Russian Party was made up of prominent historians, writers, journalists and editors. These people had access to all the levers that influenced public opinion and created more or less well-organized subcultures. They followed different strategies in their well-coordinated media campaigns. Nikolay Mitrokhin, the author of The Russian Party: Russian Nationalist Movement in the Soviet Union in 1953-1985 (2003) speaks about the Russian party as a “lobbyist group”. I am not sure that this is the correct term, as lobbyists offer arguments, evidence and research to support their groups’ positions in a political process. The publications of lobbyists allow interest groups to influence public opinion, which, in turn, often influences the policy decisions of lawmakers. Lobbyists work to persuade governmental officials. But this kind of political process was obviously not present in the case of the late Soviet Union! There was no open political process of opinion formation; the Department for Propaganda and Agitation of CK KPSS had enough time and capacities to research issues themselves, they didn’t rely on information from interest groups and lobbyists to keep them informed and up-to-date. That is why I don’t think that Mitrokhin’s term “lobbyists” for the Russian Party is a carefully considered one.

On the other hand, there can be no doubt that the nationalist movement had its own advocates in the Communist Party – not at the highest level, but at the mid-level of bureaucrats in the Propaganda Apparatus (e.g. Vladimir Vorontsov, the assistant chief of Mikhail Suslov, the Communist Party’s main ideologist) and among Komsomol leaders (e.g. Valerij Ganicev, director of the publishing house Molodaja Gvardija from 1968 to 1978). And there can also be no doubt that the government was aware of the risk that arose from the nationalist movement: even Suslov, who is considered to have been the chief supporter of the patriotic movement, expressed fear of the dissident Right as a subversive force. Underground conservatives were often detained in mental hospitals (Gennadiy Shimanov, Anatoly Ivanov-Skuratov are examples) and even in labour camps (such as Igor Ogurtsov, Leonid Borodin and Vladimir Osipov).

As opposed to earlier decades under the Soviet regime, when ideological alternatives were simply suppressed, the nomenclatura during the Brezhnev era was interested in the controlled flourishing of ideological niches (i.e. liberal, national-bolshevist or traditionalist ones) of public discourse. The aim was the control of people and of the diffusion of ideas. No protagonist should be able to leave his or her niche, or possibly claim to be the Communist Party’s official voice. The absence of a real public sphere and the lack of real national solidarity was a proper basis for transforming the Communist autocracy into a “cratocracy” – to use Vittorio Strada’s apt neologism to describe late Soviet totalitarianism (Strada 1985, 213).

“The pressure valve”, Alexander Mikhailovsky, Eurozine