tv [untitled] November 4, 2011 7:01pm-7:31pm EDT
hello and welcome to cross talk i'm peter lavelle the party is finally over at least it was twenty years ago the end of the communist party of the soviet union was the final step before the collapse of the us that's all right so what are the parties positive and negative legacies could have it reformed itself and changed the course of history. in. the. process of the end of the communist party of the soviet union i'm joined by ronald suny in and arbor he is a professor of social and political history at the university of michigan in princeton we have mark bystander he is professor of politics at princeton university all right gentlemen this is cross-eyed i mean you can jump in anytime you want mark if i go to you first in princeton the primary reason why i'm doing this not only is it the twentieth anniversary of the end of the communist party of
the soviet union but to remind people of the events of nine hundred ninety one and how much it really changed the world and how we how the world is. moved on from one great epic conflict to maybe another epic conflict and we can throw in the economic crisis here what is the most important legacy of what happened twenty years ago in the country that i'm living in right now russia well i think for there's a there's a global legacy obviously the end of the cold war the end of the division of the planet within russia russia had been ruled soviet union had been ruled by a party state essentially and when the communist party ended in essence and as it unraveled and essence that control over the state unravelled and also its control over the public sphere also and so there was a whole rush of movements and of tendencies that just took over the public sphere that the you know couldn't make itself felt under the calm and under communist rule . right on the fine go you do you think it's underestimated the day when we think
about the the all powerful communist party of the soviet union and it was pointed out just a second ago it's global ramifications because it just wasn't the the soviet union itself it was an entire of what people would call an empire some people even called an evil empire this epic conflict between the west and the communist world came to an end when the communist party finally collapsed and peacefully at that right maybe that's one of the legacies is that there wasn't a civil war there wasn't a great deal of bloodletting there were some ethnic conflicts in different places like not going to karbala king george and. but it was a relatively smooth deflating of the of the system i would say that one of the legacies of the soviet party rule two to emphasize what mark just said is that the party was so much a monopoly of communication of political activity that there was no room for
alternatives to appear so that when the party sort of disintegrated when gorbachev loosen things up there was really nothing there to take its place and so the weak civil society allowed again for eventually the state to rebuild and to become more authoritarian marc when i studied under martin o'malley and he used to always tell me that when totalitarian societies and states collapse they collapse totally do you agree with that statement because again we were all looking at the the how powerful the soviet union the communist party of the soviet union was but once it collapsed everything else went with it i mean it was the total collapse. well you know actually the state didn't collapse in many ways the state actually fragmented so they're little pieces of this state and in fact in some places the you know members of the politburo are actually still in power such as in kazakhstan so i think. you know exaggerated. plus you know i think they were
all there is ways in which the institutions that were there under communism played a major role in the whole transition process that didn't totally disappear in fact ironically the communists were in the forefront of the movements that undid the soviet union so if you look at the leadership of the estonian popular front if you look at the at the leadership of the alternative movements communists actually were very prominently represented within them well that's interesting well if i go back to you but you know if we look at the i've always limited to the communist party of russia the russian federation is that it never took the the it failed to take the path of european socialism i mean we may still talk about lenin here they talk about marx they you know the the stuff that the vast majority of the people in this country are not interested anymore though i do point out that it does still do well in elections and we can talk about why that is but it's certainly not a hedge
a monic power and it will never be that again i mean it's interesting that he said we have earlier in the early eighty's and early and up to ninety ninety one it was the communist party that unraveled itself but then once it's finally collapsed once it was banned it didn't want to really reform itself any further as my factory got very rigid. it's not quite the same party that is the party that gorbachev ruled over this great big soviet communist party was made up of all kinds of different factions there were conservatives he got child types there were more reformers there were quite radicals. you know it so there was gorbachev was sort of in the center he moved gradually rather steadily however towards social democracy and by august of one nine hundred ninety one you could say that he was like a european social democrat he then failed in the coup the coup which then led to the olsen's rise and what was left of the communist party what became the new
russian federation communist party was basically the right wing of the old party so they they are in some ways a kind of semi fascist party they are very nationalistic they're very authoritarian and they don't have much in common with the kind of european social democracy or i would say with the original rather democratic radically democratic aims of karl marx and marcie do you think that. a bit provocative you did glasnost and perestroika destroy the communist party of the soviet union. i'd have to say of the two glasnost destroyed the communist party of the soviet union the commies party the soviet union was built as an instrument basically to control the state and to control the public sphere and once you opened up the public sphere that the communist party really couldn't control it that the the debates that tore the communist party apart were essentially over the impact of glasnost now a lot of people talk about the economy and how the economy and economic competition
destroyed the communist party. there is some truth in that in that but i think that that really wasn't the central element of what happened in fact i think the soviet union could have survived for a long time and had no no pressing economic crisis what it had was a legitimacy crisis. and that's where. you know glasnost came in. you know when sure noble occurred for instance that it just highlighted the gulf between the party and and the truth and so it basically already you know six or seven months after glasnost started they were very difficult abates taking place within the politburo there were splits that already occurred and all of the subsequent debates kind of flowed out of what were the consequences of glasnost could it be controlled and so on so the party died because they couldn't make this transition from the into a competitive. i would say marketplace of ideas well it's actually i mean let's
look at the legitimacy issue because i think a lot of people agree with one of their what was the major point of legitimacy for the party because it looks like it went from communist ideals of lenin marx and engels and all that to legitimize its rule because it won the second world war but decades later you can still keep saying well it's because we won the war that's why we want to have exclusive power i mean at a certain point you just can't keep playing that card over and over again right there it's true that even with a share was that kind of we go go ahead go ahead ronald go ahead there were. there was a there was a kind of withering away of the ideology there was a kind of disillusionment that sort of started at the top among some party officials like gorbachev and shevardnadze a lot and also among the intelligentsia more progressive or liberal intelligentsia
within the party so that that actually happened but there's something that's important to remember the soviet system disintegrated or was was reformed radically by gorbachev and successfully before the soviet union itself collapse in other words the system has to be separated from the state itself by one thousand nine hundred ninety already you have a multi-party system operating you have you do have a marketplace of ideas very rough glasnost is allowing of course all kinds of opinions quite radical opinions to flourish you have the beginnings of a market economy you have the end of censorship you have the end of the monopoly of the communist party that then eventually and that that that could have survived that is that would have been hard but of course the soviet union had suffered and survived other great disintegrating events like world war two this was not as radical and destructive a moment as that and then came this other moment that is the failure to achieve the
union treaty in one thousand nine hundred one yeltsin's move after the coup and then the ultimate conspiracy the kind of coup that yeltsin and others carried out to destroy the soviet union as a state mark what do you think about that i mean the the loss of legitimacy because go ahead go ahead jump in. yeah i was going to say i don't agree with ron on that i think by by the time that by one nine hundred ninety i think events had already gained a momentum that they were pushing not only to the disintegration of the soviet union but also i think they were pushing towards the the breakup of the of the communist party so by nine hundred ninety it's true that the party had had legalized it had legalized opposition activity. of course it's still a centrally monopolized power in moscow although in various republics other
movements had essentially or were about to come to power. but it in fact i think that at that point in time the party was right on the edge of splitting into into pieces so there was this debate between the democratic platform which represented the reformist wing of the party and then there was the right wing of the party the conservatives and gorbachev was left having to make a choice between the two now he could have chosen the democratic platform but if he chose the democratic platform i think you would have found that the right wing would have brought broken off of the party. and in fact the russian communist party in the creation of the russian communist party as an entity was not necessarily favored by gorbachev but it was something that the political right really wanted to have happen so it was it was kind of a break off so i think the party was factional izing by nine hundred ninety right gentlemen to jump in here we're going to we're short break here and after that break we'll continue our discussion on the dissolution of the soviet communist
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welcome back to cross talk and peter lavelle to mind you were talking about the end of the communist party of the soviet union. and you can see. and now we're joined by donald jensen in washington he's a resident fellow at the center for transatlantic relations let's let's break it out a little bit here for a lot of people in this country in russia the russian federation is that the end of the soviet communist part of the soviet union and the soviet union itself all in very close proximity is really about personal ambition about you know between yeltsin and between got a bunch off and it didn't matter not be provocative here it didn't matter the damage they both left behind it was a power grab and it was for prestige and and legacy essentially and they didn't care if the promised party fell apart or the soviet union it's there it was their place in history and what and how they would rule in the future obviously mr yeltsin won. yes very much i.
couple points i agree peter that i was it was a power grab between those two leaders but i think it's more deep as well and two elements i don't think we may have touched upon in sufficient depth one would be the role of nationalism not only russian nationalism which level yeltsin managed to put himself ahead of but also in the various ethnic republics i think it's no coincidence that the leaders of several sent to several central asian republics today were or have been former communist party bosses and i think the second point i would add would be the struggle over resources as the legitimacy eroded one of your guests mentioned the erosion which i hadn't happened steadily yes but accelerated early so when the eighty's i think even a lot of the elite lost lost confidence in the system and thus became a scramble for resources and then if you look at most of the early oligarchs and see if some of those still around a lot of them got got their start of the komsomol in the eighty's mr khodorkovsky
for example and i think that reflects the massive loss of faith in the system by even the elites it's interesting mark if i go back to you in princeton to me it was a system that lost belief in itself because i remember living in poland in the one nine hundred eighty s. and i could remember even comedies people who were members officially members of the communist party used to joke with me and say there are more communists in berkeley than in poland took a system that lost belief in its own ideology. it was probably true to a vote firstly go ahead. and i think that's right. yeah there was a gradual erosion you know i think it's easy to dismiss communism now and say well no one believed by the time you know glasnost emerged or about the time that's developed for its demise but i think there were some people who did believe in it and believe in the ideology of the state the ideology of the state as we were talking about before was not the ideology of work or revolution it was the idea.
ology of actually soviet nationalism in some ways. but i think that in the beginning in the in the late seventy's and early eighty's there was this decline in our or i should say stagnation in in living standards that occurred. and just a sense that society was not moving forward social problems were multiplying. and the system was not dealing with them that was the issue so the system was being ruled by people who were in their late seventy's and eighty's i think the ministry the minister of. the minister the minister of media machine building which i think ran the. the atomic industry was something like eighty six at one point in time which you know you can understand why chernobyl happened so so there was this huge gap this huge gap between they who was this old generation of
people who didn't seem to care much for society and the rest of society us and. you know the us was imagined differently once glasnost emerged but. that gap was definitely real and really was i think the major reason why glasnost emerged ok ronald i mean i get maybe i could just rephrase what we just heard here the social contract that the soviet communist party. claim to provide to society was. collapsed because i mean the you'll still see people in the they're not i would say they were mainstream here but they the state should be responsible for certain things here and i've always found very interesting is that even the middle class of russia today they still like to is free of those freeby you said the communist regime would give you like electricity water things that in the west people pay enormous amounts of money for but that's another some topic here but the social contract collapsed. well there's probably more their lives like ronald that come to ronald that are after after after
gorbachev comes to power then then before the system was relatively stable and there's a very good book about how everything seemed to be permanent until after they change and then people read back that it had to happen you know in the west the major interpretation of the fall of the soviet union both the system and the state is that it was inevitable it was in the genetic code of the revolution the system was failing there were serious problems there was no mass uprising there was no determined from the bottom demand for change until gorbachev actually started this whole thing so my own view is that it was certainly not inevitable that it was largely a contingent event that it was something that happened because the reform was very radical was badly carried out and gorbachev ultimately was unwilling to use the power of the state including the army and the police to preserve his state i would put it this way gorbachev was no abraham lincoln leader was ready to use power to
save the united states when a divided gorbachev kept hesitating allowing something to go forward if you go back to the very beginning you know with these nationalist revolts you go back to going to cut a block in one nine hundred eighty eight he didn't use force and he was very hesitant about employing the power he had eventually as mark shows in his own book a cascade of ethnic mobilizations took place at a certain point then it was likely there's a soviet fall apart things had to be done early that couldn't be done later donald if i go back to you i like this point about the inevitability because i plays into the cold war dynamic because again all of us were brought up is that the system is the logical it's unnatural it will ultimately collapse which is part of the the narrative of western democratic capitalism or whatever the term we want to use today so that plays into that dynamic here but what about the inevitability and earlier mark mentioned in the program which is very provocative point a noncommunist soviet union could have survived. minus the baltic i think it is the
baltic republics i think that i think that's very very possible although the problem however would be the extent to which there is a legitimizing factor in that that allows the system to continue and i don't think there necessarily was and i think it's that absence that plays russian politics today so i know i think that it could have survived it probably could have survived for maybe a generation but i do think it would alternately break up in one form or another i would take issue with two things are going in the discussion however one is that i don't like to use and i will be provocative theater the term collapse of the soviet union because i think there are many continuity is far less very aligned to some cop many continuity is and second i think we have to go back to that critical year of one nine hundred ninety one we're going to chop off in fact was not circling around always in the democratic direction but in fact either allowed or could not stop some of the forces of reaction from moving and i think what he lost was his
his place in the middle of the political spectrum not that he became i think as one of your posts kind of a radical social democrat i don't think he was he maybe now but i don't think he was that ok mark you know if you can we get down to personalities here and i brought up yeltsin and got a bunch of i mean how much is it you know i know but i know going to child is very popular still in the west but i mean here in russia he is blamed for the collapse of the soviet union i mean was it lack of political foresight. the lack of political will because again you could look at it could be ideological but i suppose is that he really didn't know what he wanted to change and he didn't know how to do it and you know then that's what the result was because he really never really had a road map because everyone here on this program has agreed kind of vacillated back and forth and once you do that you know you will eventually run out of options you know you'd look if you look at the public opinion polling at the time inside the soviet union you find that gorbachev actually was the most popular politician in the soviet union until about april or may one nine hundred ninety which is when he
. his popularity switches and actually yeltsin becomes more popular then at least within russia. moscow in particular yeltsin becomes more popular than gorbachev so what was happening then at the time well events were spinning out of control at that time this was after the collapse of eastern europe of course this was when elections were beginning to happen in in the republics and non non communist movements were coming to power nationalist movements secession was on the agenda in multiple republics violence had already occurred elsewhere so the problem that gorbachev you know faced and why he was kind of swept away was that he acted too late and he was always too late had he i think has run suggested earlier had he acted earlier to sort of contain some of the excesses of of nationalists and to to to put some limits on glasnost somehow to to prevent.
you know the ways in which things ultimately escape control then perhaps he might have been able to ride this thing but as it as it you know it it developed it ultimately just became a tsunami that he couldn't control when you think about that ronald i mean i had to drag jump and go yeah. yeah well you see i agree with mark there is we can find in retrospect even at the time dozens of causes why the system and why the soviet union as a state would collapse in other words this was all over determined we say in the literature but over determination is not pre-determination it was not inevitable if gorbachev had acted more consistently if he had used the power he had if he had maybe sequence the reforms not to five different revolutions at once and the cold war marketwise the economy democratic the democrat ties the state loosen up the
federation all at once this was almost impossible for for a single state to survive in that way and gorbachev of course is an incredibly admirable figure i mean he probably introduced more freedom in the world than any figure certainly in the twentieth century he reversed many of the trends that lead toward more authoritarian states towards anted to my democratic states towards imperialism he was an anti imperialist too particularly in eastern europe and yet ultimately he's a failure ultimately the one thing a state leader has to do is preserve his own state and this he failed to do amazing irony of history thank you very much and i move on out of time many thanks my guess a day in ann arbor princeton and in washington and thanks to our viewers for watching us here to see you next time and remember prostate problems.
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