Is Putin a Communist?
Commentary for 21 December 2017
By J.R. Nyquist
American Thinker recently carried Paul Gottfried’s article, Misreading Putin, in which Gottfried commits a number of errors. First, Gottfried says that Putin was never really a communist; and second, he suggests that the Russian Federation is not a continuation of the Soviet Union. In the paragraphs that follow I will present evidence that Putin has always been a communist, and the Russian Federation was and is a false front behind which the old communist structures continue to operate.
Because this subject is of grave importance to our country, and because the danger of war is growing day to day, we should no longer allow naïve judgments about Russia to pass without contradiction. Of course, I have great respect for Professor Gottfried. His writings are fascinating, his conversation is full of wit and fun – but on this subject he is wrong.
The professor begins his article by criticizing the practice of linking Putin with the KGB as a result of Putin having been a KGB officer and a former head of the Russian special services. It was from his job as chief of the FSB (formerly KGB) that Putin was promoted to the office of Prime Minister by President Boris Yeltsin. This took many people by surprise at the time. According to Professor Gottfried, linking Putin with the Soviet special services is “an attempt to view him [Putin] and his regime as an extension of the Soviet Communist one.” Gottfried goes on to write, “This is a glaring misreading of the cultural and political changes in Russia since the 1990s.” He adds, “There isn’t much evidence that Putin was ever anything but a Russian nationalist, who worked for the Soviet rulers of the Russian empire before they fell from power.”
This statement is nonsense because there is plenty of evidence. Simply watch the online videos from the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students, held in Russia (at Sochi) from the 13th to the 22nd of October this year. This was a massive communist youth rally at which Putin gave a very telling speech. Here is what President Putin said to this huge international gathering of communists only two months ago:
Dear friends, welcome to Russia – at the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students. This forum unites the youth of our planet…. Almost 30 thousand participants … from over 180 states and all of the world’s continents have gathered here in Sochi! Young people of Russia – of our big country – from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok – are also with us! The first festival was held seven decades ago. Back then, young men and women of your age were brought together by the power of a dream. Their belief that youth, with its sincerity and kindness, could break the ice of distrust and would help to rid the world of unfairness, wars and conflicts. Indeed, there was much that your peers of that time managed to achieve. They proved that barriers were powerless in the face of genuine friendship. They showed that political, national, religious, cultural and other differences had no effect on the warmth of people-to-people relations. Our country is proud to have hosted the Global Celebration of Youth twice. In 1957, the whole of Moscow was welcoming the participants in the 6th Festival. People were standing in the streets and on rooftops. The Muscovites cordially greeted the participants in the 12th Youth Forum in the summer of 1985. Today you have the chance to experience the hospitality and the openness of our sports capital – Sochi. Sochi is the city of Olympic brotherhood and hope. The five Olympic rings – like the five petals of the festival daisy – have become the symbol of solidarity among all the continents. I am convinced that you – the youth of different countries, nationalities and faiths – share common feelings, values and ambitions. An aspiration for freedom and happiness, peace and accord on the planet. A desire to create and attain bigger goals and we’ll do our best so that you can achieve success. The energy and talent of youth have astonishing power. The young generation always gives the world innovative ideas. You have the aptitude to experiment, argue, and often – to challenge the way things are. Go for it. Create your own future. Strive to change the world and make it a better place. There is nothing you cannot do. Just don’t give up and keep going. And be assured that the festival brotherhood will help fulfill your boldest dreams and good intentions. I declare the opening of the 19th World Festival of Youth and Students! Good luck!
During Putin’s speech we can see the young communists applauding and smiling. Some are looking up to Putin with youthful admiration. They are overjoyed at Putin’s words of support. For them there can be no question. Putin is not a nationalist. He is a communist. He says to them, “Go for it. Create your own future.” (That is, a communist future.) This is not a nationalist audience, and they are not applauding a nationalist speaker.
And this speech is not anomalous. In 2005 Putin publicly said, “First and foremost it is worth acknowledging that the demise of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century. As for the Russian people, it became a genuine tragedy. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory.”
In January 2016 Putin publicly criticized Lenin. But he didn’t criticize Lenin for being a communist. He criticized Lenin for “providing regions with autonomy.” By doing this, Lenin “planted an atomic bomb under the building that is called Russia and which would later explode.” This explosion took place in 1991 and led to the breakup of the Soviet Union. Putin was not criticizing Lenin’s communist ideas. He was criticizing Lenin for causing the breakup of the Soviet Union.
In response to a reading of Boris Pasternak’s poem about Lenin’s imposition of communist thought, Putin publicly said, “Ruling with your ideas as a guide is correct, but that is only the case when that idea leads to the right results, not like it did with Vladimir Ilyich [Lenin].” Many newspapers reported that Putin had verbally attacked the Soviet system and its founder. But Putin was actually criticizing Lenin’s tactics because they ultimately proved harmful to the communist state.
At the same time, Putin has refused to bury Lenin, who lies in state at the center of Moscow. Is this the policy of a nationalist? It shows that Lenin remains the country’s most important historical figure; for when the Russians recovered the body of Tsar Nicholas II there was no thought of placing him in Red Square. Nicholas II was buried in 1998. But Lenin remains unburied. Why? Putin has never given a satisfactory answer to that question.
Professor Gottfried says, “Putin has gone out of his way to advance the moral teachings of the Russian Orthodox faith.” Unfortunately, the Russian Orthodox Church has been an important tool of the communists and of the KGB. Long ago the church was conquered by the Russian special services. Later, the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad was also conquered. Consider the revelations of former KGB officer Konstantin Preobrazhensky on this subject:
The KGB [FSB/SVR] has killed a lot of [Russian] priests. Some emigres know about this, but have preferred to keep quiet. Some from false patriotism, others because they worked for the KGB. So I had to apply all my experience as a former Soviet intelligence analyst to recreate an approximate picture of [recent deaths] by interviewing a lot of people. At the end of April 1998, in the building of the New York Synod … Archpriest Lev Lebedev of Kursk, died a strange death. He was an implacable opponent of reintegration with the Moscow Patriarchate.
Preobrazhensky’s investigation suggests that Archpriest Lebedev and many others have been murdered by the Russian special services. Lebedev’s death, in fact, proved to be a decisive step in Moscow’s takeover of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. Once upon a time the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad would have nothing to do with the Moscow Patriarchate. Now they have been absorbed by it!
And who was the head of the domestic side of this operation in 1998? Vladimir Putin, of course. It is impossible that Putin – as head of the FSB – was unaware of the many murders that were taking place. But there’s more.
In a book that I co-authored with Preobrazhensky, the former KGB officer wrote a chapter titled “How the West Was Fooled by Vladimir Putin.” He began this chapter with the following statement: “In the 1990s, after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, former anti-Soviet organizations have [since] become pro-Soviet and pro-Russian, although in Russia the possibility has still remained of returning the Communists to power.”
According to Preobrazhensky, “Putin is a thousand times more cunning, cynical and insidious” than American leaders. Putin fooled President Bush with ease, telling Bush of the miraculous cross he wore around his neck. The cross worn by Putin had survive a fire, and through this “miracle” Putin had “realized that the world is ruled by higher spiritual forces!” As Preobrazhensky explains, “This story, in which not a single Russian would ever believe, made a deep impression on Bush. Because Bush took faith with trepidation, having come to it in adulthood, he seemed to have decided that he and Putin were equally … faithful Christians.”
Like his alleged nationalism, Putin’s alleged Christianity is not to be trusted. On Sept. 8, 2000, Putin was on Larry King’s television program. King said to Putin, “There is much talk about Vladimir Putin and religious faith. I’m told that you wear a cross. Is that true? Are you religious? What are your feelings in this area?”
Putin replied, “I prefer – I would prefer not to develop on that subject in detail. I think such things are sacred for everybody. Everybody’s belief is not to be shown off….” Then Putin told the story of the miraculous cross.
King then asked, “Do you believe in a higher power?”
For those listening live, Putin was translated as follows: “I believe in the power of man.” In the official CNN transcript, the translation says, “I believe in human beings.” Of course, when a real Christian is asked to testify on behalf of his faith, such an answer would be tantamount to a denial of faith. It is, in fact, how a communist would answer the question. And I believe Putin had to give this answer for the sake of the Party cadres in Russia.
There is also the strange interchange between Putin and a journalist during his first visit to Cuba in December 2000, during which he called the communist island nation “our closest partner and closest ally for many years….” As the transcript (referenced below) shows, a reporter asked Putin if he was left-leaning or right-leaning. “How do you describe yourself?”
Putin gave a curious Aesopian answer: “As for what various people think about who I am and what I am, the Russians have a saying: ‘You can call me a pot as long as you don’t put me in the oven.’ I think it is not by chance that left-wing political leaders today come out for market reforms.”
This is a very revealing answer, in my opinion. Throughout the world, communists turned toward market reform as if on orders from above, according to some larger plan. They began denying that they were Leninists. But here Putin was slyly affirming his Leninism. According to one of my Russian-speaking friends, Putin’s remark better translates as, “Call me a pot but heat me not.”
Putin doesn’t want his true ideological leanings to be sounded. He wants to avoid such questions. This is necessary in order to fool the West. At the same time, he must use Aesopian language to assure the Party cadres at home: “Yes, I am a communist. You know the drill. We are laying low. We are engaged in a deception operation about which the West knows nothing. Think what you like, but don’t give me away. Call me a pot, but heat me not.”
Before and after 1991 Russia embarked on market reforms modeled on Lenin’s New Economic Policy of 1921. Some readers may recall that Lenin announced this policy by saying that Russia must “retreat back into capitalism.” The statements of Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin are no different. Their policy is entirely in keeping with Lenin’s, only it is a more thorough-going deception.
Meanwhile, in Cuba, Putin spoke of “restoring [Russia’s] positions [in Latin America]….” As we look around, we see that Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas of Nicaragua are back in power. They have toppled the democratic constitution, and they are receiving assistance from Russia; for example, consider Russia’s foreign aid to Nicaragua, and the shipping of tanks to the Nicaraguan regime, and approval for Russia to build a GLONASS tracking station on Nicaragua’s Caribbean coast. A clueless American journalist has called this a “puzzling move.” But that is only because the true context of Russian policy has been missed!
Nicaragua is a communist regime and Russia is arming that regime. An investigation of other communist regimes, from North Korea to Angola, will reveal a similar pattern. Russia is arming the communist states, just as it did under the Soviet Union. This is not something open to question.
In 2013, Communist Angola was reported as the “biggest African buyer of Russian arms.”
In this context, Russian support for the Angolan Army has been the key to sustaining the embattled communist regime in Congo. And Russia is investing in Congo as well, as if it were a satellite country – with “cooperation” in the development of education, science, and the country’s secret police.
As Congressional investigations have shown, Russia has made a very large contribution to the development of communist China’s military potential in terms of missiles, naval weapons and warheads. If one wants to argue that China is no longer communist, he should take this argument up with the Chinese government and its ruling Communist Party. They run a very large labor camp system with a red star over the door.
In terms of the dangerous crisis which has begun in Korea: Russia and China are both supporting communist North Korea. If one wants to dispute that North Korea is a communist regime as well, then they should reread the ideological pronouncements of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Yes, they are Marxist-Leninists.
As for Russian and Cuban assistance to the Venezuelan regime, the record is not open to dispute. Putin supported the communist cause in Venezuela. In fact, he supports socialism throughout Latin America. And why wouldn’t he? Look at what he told the communist youth at Sochi in October. Only a communist would make such a speech to a large communist gathering.
In late 2000 a British writer named Christopher Story asked the famous GRU defector, Viktor Suvorov, whether the fall of the Soviet Union was genuine. Suvorov said no, of course not. Story then asked about Suvorov’s contacts with the British military and intelligence establishment. Surely, said Story, they know what is going on. Suvorov assured him that British military and intelligence leaders were clueless. Story asked how this was possible. Suvorov replied: “Because they are stupid.”
This takes me back to something Professor Gottfried suggested in his essay. He wrote, “it is plainly stupid or dishonest to claim that we are still fighting the Commies….”
But the facts show that we are fighting the Commies. One might rather say that “it is plainly stupid or dishonest to claim that we are not still fighting communists.” I fear that Professor Gottfried only recognizes communists when a red star is tattooed on their forehead. He ought to consider that communists have no reason to advertise themselves. They can advance more successfully with a program of false advertising, or by hiding their true allegiances. In fact, they have done this many times since the founding of the Soviet Union. Or has Gottfried forgotten our dear Uncle Joe, who “shut down” the Comintern and “reopened” Russia’s churches during World War II?
Putin is not a nationalist. He is not a Christian. And he is not a monarchist. But Professor Gottfried is ready to believe that Vladimir Putin is all those things. ‘In June, 2015,” noted Gottfried, “Putin announced his intention of reinstating what is left of the Russian royal family in their ancestral residence. This is widely regarded as the first step toward restoring the Russian monarchy.”
This is worse than naïve. And what has come of this restoration of the monarchy? Nothing! The Russian royals have not taken up residence in their old palaces. There is no prospect of a restoration. It is another fairy tale designed to raise the hopes of “reactionaries,” to win the approval of conservatives.
Professor Gottfried, in his article, says that those who refer to Putin’s KGB career, and who link Russia to its communist past, are yearning for the “good old days” of the Cold War. But why would anyone yearn for something that has been here all along? The Cold War never ended. The so-called collapse of communism is just a slogan for knuckleheads.
What is “plainly stupid,” I think, is to believe that the most powerful political mafia on earth – the Communist Party Soviet Union – spontaneously dissolved itself to found, in its place, a capitalist democracy in Russia. I would also argue that it’s “plainly stupid” to believe that changing a few street names and city names signifies the fall of ruling class that actually kept control of the country. I would argue that replacing the name KGB with FSB or SVR does not change the thing itself; that selling state property to KGB-recruited oligarchs is not capitalism; that rigged elections are not democracy; that supposedly “independent” political parties, run by former KGB officers and Party apparatchiks, is not a multiparty system. Communism may be, at some level, a system of ideas – but it has also been an interlocking system of organizations, intelligence networks, factories, parties, banks, governments and paramilitary organizations. To be a communist is only superficially about belief. At its essence, it is about power and imperialism. If they do not follow Marx or Lenin to the letter, it does not mean they are not communists. It only means that the new religion and its empire are yet evolving.
If we look at the Russian Federation today, and we study its various institutions, we will find that most all of them are extensions of Soviet organizations – often with the same management, with the same operating procedures, and the same ruling attitudes. This may be seen in the FSB itself, which presently celebrates Felix Dzerzhinsky as its founder and the Bolshevik Revolution as its point of departure. But Professor Gottfried brushes this aside as unimportant. According to Gottfried, “the platitudes of the Cold War era no longer apply to the current American-Russian confrontation.”
What platitudes would that be? Was opposition to Soviet expansion in decades past grounded in “platitudes”? What about the countless millions killed by Stalin? And how should we rate Putin’s crimes – the murdering of journalists and dissidents and Orthodox priests? Decade after decade, it is those who deny these evils that utter real platitudes. “There is no famine in Ukraine, there is only a shortage of food!” “Stalin is our uncle Joe.” “Putin is a Christian.” And the greatest platitude of all, “Communism is dead.”
Thus, I must ask: If communism died, who killed it? Not Ronald Reagan, who hugged Gorbachev in Red Square. And let’s not be pedantic. As noted above, Communism is not merely an ideology. It is a system of interlocking organizations – including clandestine organizations and false fronts. It is a movement seeking global dominance. It is constantly shifting and changing and reconfiguring. A communist is not merely about ideas. He is a person. So when we grapple with communism we must always reckon with the power of many persons. The complexity and intelligence of these persons cannot be overrated. Professor Gottfried does not get to decide that a communist is not a communist because, in some action or other, he has contradicted some past communist notion. Lenin was very clear in saying that Marxism was not a dogma. He said that communism was science, and science constantly changes. It advances and develops. This is what academic experts always miss.
As an example of what I’m trying to explain: In March of 1921 Lenin officially adopted capitalism as the economic system of the Soviet Union. No, I’m not making it up. This was how the Soviet system formed itself near the outset. It’s what so-called “Communist” countries do. Yes, they adopt capitalism. And this creates a great deal of confusion for those who think that communism is merely an economic system. Well, it never has been an economic system because Marx never outlined what that economic system would look like. What Marx actually said – and few took notice – was that the path to communism was by way of capitalism. So Lenin was a faithful Marxist after all. And Mr. Deng was a faithful Marxist in China, when he freed the Chinese markets.
Above all, perhaps the lesson here is not to be animated by a belief in Cold War stereotypes. It’s my contention, here and elsewhere, that we never understood communism; that we never understood Russia; that we never understood the Cold War. America’s wealth and power and greatness led us to erroneous ways of thinking. And here we are!
In January 2016 President Putin publicly revealed that he has kept his Communist Party membership card, and has a soft spot for Soviet ideals. “I didn’t throw out my party card,” he told a group of supporters, “I didn’t burn it. My card is lying around somewhere.” Putin did not stop there, but went on to explain that he wasn’t a party member through necessity. “I can’t say I was totally an ideological Communist but I did really treasure it [the card].”
Putin says he was not a total “ideological Communist,” but Lenin and Mao might have said the same thing about themselves. Time and again they went up against the ideological Marxists. As revolutionaries, however, they were always alive to new possibilities and new ways of thinking about socialism. Therefore, as opponents of socialism, shouldn’t we also avoid stereotypes and rigid ideological thinking? This should be doubly true when it comes to naming our enemy. Yes, that enemy is communist. No, that enemy doesn’t have to be a pedantic Stalinist monkey. He might be intelligent, and cunning. And he might be wearing a cross around his neck instead of a red star.
NOTES AND LINKS
Putin’s remarks at communist youth festival in Russia last October - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pzkLe-hOvgU
Putin: Soviet Collapse a “genuine tragedy” http://www.nbcnews.com/id/7632057/ns/world_news/t/putin-soviet-collapse-genuine-tragedy/#.WjWVNkxFyzk
Putin as Castro’s friend: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2689518/Is-sign-return-Cold-War-Putin-cozies-Castro-Cuba-relations-frosty-West.html
Putin’s cryptic statement to the Cuban press: http://en.kremlin.ru/events/president/transcripts/21138
Putin’s support for communist military power in Africa: http://www.africareview.com/news/Angola-now-biggest-African-buyer-of-Russian-arms/979180-2037576-11bhfeqz/index.html
Putin’s criticism of Lenin as strategist: http://www.newsweek.com/russias-putin-accused-lenin-ruining-soviet-union-418519
On the Poisoning of Priests in the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad http://www.portal-credo.ru/site/?act=news&id=52322
Larry King asks Putin about his faith: http://transcripts.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0009/08/lkl.00.html
Russian tank deal with Nicaragua https://news.usni.org/2016/05/09/opinion-russian-tank-deal-with-nicaragua-back-to-the-future-moment-for-u-s
Putin Kept his Party Card and Says he Likes Socialism - https://www.yahoo.com/news/putin-still-communist-party-card-likes-socialist-ideals-183734163.html